’ouvert has long been a jubilant exclamation of Caribbean identity and pride.
But after the predawn festivities, which precede the much bigger West Indian American Day Parade, were tainted by deadly shootings each of the last two years, the Police Department decided the event would be different this year.
Instead of starting at 4 a.m., J’ouvert began at 6 a.m. on Monday, and in the hours before, as people made their way to the start of the event, hundreds of portable streetlights all but turned the night into day. Security checkpoints, like those used around Times Square on New Year’s Eve, were set up to screen for weapons and alcohol, and thousands of police officers were stationed around the area in central Brooklyn.
It was, in the end, a safer J’ouvert, with no one killed, but it was also a very different event, sapped of its usual energy, and stifled, some revelers complained, by the vast police presence.
“I didn’t feel a need for extra security,” said Christina Jackson, 17, whose shorts and bandanna were emblazoned with the Jamaican flag. “The police disrupted the festive mood. You couldn’t walk down certain streets.”
Thousands of people still came to the event, dressed in costumes and carrying the flags of the places where their families originated, like Barbados, Guyana, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago. Some threw brightly colored paint, a tradition that is similar to the Hindu festival of Holi. But many complained that the changes, like creating frozen zones along the parade route and the perimeter, were too restrictive and felt more like punishment than protection.
“It’s wack,” Shawn McCaskill, 24, said, summing up his disappointment. He turned back from the procession as it headed down Flatbush Avenue around 6 a.m.
A celebration of emancipation from slavery and the start of Caribbean Carnival, J’ouvert was threatened by the violence that plagued it the last two years as gang rivals used the darkness and crowds of the overnight event to try to settle scores.