Staten Island politician calls for the end of West Indian Day parade, citing NYPD budget cuts

Photo via Facebook

A Staten Island councilman is calling for the end to Brooklyn’s popular West Indian Day Parade and all of its annual coinciding activities — arguing that it requires a “beefed up and visible police presence” the NYPD can no longer afford.

“Each year there’s several shootings and homicides surrounding the West Indian Day Parade & J’ouvert. Its a danger for cops, revelers & the public,” wrote Republican Councilman Joe Borelli in a tweet accompanying a letter addressed to NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea. 

The festival celebrating Caribbean food, music and culture attracts millions to Brooklyn’s Crown Heights every Labor Day and kicks off with the smaller J’Ouvert Parade in the early morning before the showcase West Indian Day Parade marches down Eastern Parkway in the early afternoon.

Borelli, however, claimed the NYPD can no longer compensate the 3,400 police officers needed to patrol the city’s largest celebration citing recent cuts to the Police Department’s overtime budge.

“Without the enhanced police presence, made possible only by assigning officers on overtime, the city of New York can make no reasonable guarantee that revelers will be safe,” the South Shore councilman wrote in the letter. “This danger also extends to police officers assigned to these commands during their regular shifts.”

Many Brooklynites slammed Borelli’s comments and implied that his choice to single out the parade had racist undertones.

“He should start with Columbus Day and Saint Patrick’s Day if this is just about ‘funding,’” tweeted Fight Back Bay Ridge Co-Founder Mallory McMahon.
Crown Heights Assemblywoman Diana Richardson also blasted Borelli, suggesting that he’s seeking to win political brownie points at the Caribbean community’s expense.

“Joe Borelli: Grandstanding on the Caribbean Community will never be accepted!” she wrote in a Facebook post. “Gun violence is a symptom of decades of racist policies and the lack of investments into our communities … Stay on Staten Island – Don’t come to Brooklyn trying to single out the West Indian American Day Carnival. We Not Having Dat!!!
The Labor Day celebration was marred with tragedy for three consecutive years with multiple fatal shootings at the parade from 2015 to 2017, including the death of Carey Gabay — a 43-year-old aid to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was shot down by a stray bullet while walking home from the parade in 2015.

Last year, festivities were limited to daytime hours — pushing the J’Ouvert parade back to 6 a.m. from its traditional start time of 4 a.m. — and thousands of officers lined the Eastern Parkway parade route and manned the 13 secured entry points into the event. There were no reported incidents at the parade.

Last year, Bklyner reported three deaths in the borough on Labor Day including 50-year-old Wanda Rodriguez, who was reportedly on her way to J’Ouvert.

Parade organizers did not respond to the councilman’s letter but a spokesman for the West Indian American Day Carnival Association told Brooklyn Paper they will announce plans for the 53rd annual celebration soon, as the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of most large-scale events in the city.

“The organization that produces the day’s events will be announcing this year’s plan very soon,” said Hank Sheinkopf of Manhattan-based Sheinkopf Communications.

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, whose district covers parts of Crown Heights, could not be reached for comment.

Update (Wednesday, 5:50 pm): This article has been updated to include reactions to the councilman’s letter.

This story first appeared on brooklynpaper.com.