Watched By 2,000 Cops, Rattled By Two More Fatal Shootings, J’ouvert Revelers Take Stock
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on The Trace and has been partially reprinted on The Undefeated.
One of the youngest members of the D’Radoes Steel Orchestra was feeling especially ebullient. For the third year in a row, the 100-member group to which he belonged had won the top prize in the big steel pan competition held to coincide with J’ouvert, the annual pre-dawn Brooklyn street party that precedes West Indian Day and is, according to organizers, the largest ethnic celebration in the country.
“It was a miracle to get that third win,” said Aidan, a 14-year-old from the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He’d been introduced to J’ouvert and D’Radoes by his father. His eyes beamed as he stood behind an array of steel pans.
In the early hours of Monday morning, Aidan and other members of the D’Radoes crew mounted their homemade drums on a hand-welded rig pulled by a Penske truck through the festival, past watchful police stationed in pools of artificial light.
This was not the J’ouvert of years past. Police officials, hoping to avert the kind of violence that had become associated with the event, had flooded the streets with cops — more than 2,000 officers in all, as many as serve on the entire Atlanta police force, spread out across just a few square miles of Brooklyn. The officers had brought with them 200 light towers. They said the flood lights weren’t there to spoil the party, for which darkness is a central ingredient, but to keep everyone safe.
By most accounts, the NYPD succeeded in its first ambition. Within a crowd estimated at 250,000 strong, groups caroused in costumes similar to those seen at New Orleans’s Mardi Gras. Many covered themselves (and sometimes nearby revelers) with paint, baby powder, sparkles, and motor oil. People drank, smoked, and ate from food trucks that stayed open late and the informal vendors who set up on the sidewalk with grills and chafing dishes, selling Caribbean specialties like jerk chicken and shark. They danced in the streets.
But the throngs of police and the artificially illuminated blocks did not keep the gunfire at bay.
As 14-year-old Aidan and D’Radoes entered the main throng on Flatbush Avenue, shots rang out a mile down the street, first at the intersection with Empire Boulevard. Half an hour later, there was more gunfire, one block east.
An observer taking in the festival from a rooftop said she saw police responding to the first shooting, then quickly rush to the second. From that vantage point, a body could be seen slumped by the exterior wall of a Western Beef supermarket.
Twenty minutes later, all evidence of violence had been absorbed by the thickening crowd. The victims had been quickly removed. There was no police tape. While video posted to Twitter showed partiers rushing away in the immediate aftermath, many soon returned.