As we still mourn the deaths of 17-year-old Tyreke Borel and 22-year-old Tiarah Poyau who were shot and killed last week during J’Ouvert, the early morning celebration that precedes the West Indian Day Carnival in Brooklyn, N.Y., many have used the tragic events to hold fast to uninformed positions in regards to the future of the event.
After a grassroots campaign promoting safety during the Labor Day weekend and a coordinated allocation of resources including police, community violence interrupters and clergy there was a tremendous shared sense of disappointment following the shootings. The response from some was to call for a cancelation of the event. This, while offering what appears to be an easy solution, regrettably shows ignorance of what J’Ouvert (pronounced zhoo-vay) is and to the overall problem of gun violence.
First, let us remember that real families are mourning and should be given support and time to grieve. Also, we must recognize the victims who survived are recovering from trauma as well. There will be time to really assess what needs to be done.
When we do reconvene and ask the primary question on whether to “cancel” or “suspend” J’Ouvert, we must ask if we are calling to cancel the organized parade that happens at 5am? If so, therein lies the problem.
There is a misconception that J’Ouvert is an organized event; rather it is more of a celebration similar to how we observe Independence Day and Memorial Day. J’Ouvert is not an event. It literally means dawn or daybreak; for Carnival purposes it means “the morning of.”
But canceling it will leave tens of thousands of people on the street covering several miles in Brooklyn and would require martial law or at minimum imposing a curfew.
This leads to a follow-up question to those who would push forward: where is the call to cancel Memorial Day and 4th of July weekend celebrations? Just as these holidays are embedded within American culture, and cannot be tied to one specific event, J’Ouvert is an integral part of the West Indian community and cannot simply be canceled.
Cancelling J’Ouvert is an overly simplistic response, particularly given the number of deaths we accept on other summer holiday weekends. This past Fourth of July weekend, 20 people were shot in 12 separate incidents in New York. Memorial Day weekend faired slightly better, with one teen killed and 16 others injured. Unfortunately it is almost assured that on these holidays this type of violence will occur. All of these numbers have names attached to them, with families and communities who are torn apart, including those killed on J’Ouvert.
Understand that none of this condones the violence or lives that were lost during J’Ouvert. Quite the opposite, we all share the goal of preventing violence on J’Ouvert, Independence Day and Memorial Day. We also sincerely wish we could bring back the lives lost on the days leading up to J’Ouvert and the days following it. But let us not be insincere by offering a solution that sounds good yet is impractical and does not deal with the body count plaguing these communities.
Someone willing to shoot another in front of a cadre of police in a well-lit area is a danger to us all, and will most likely harm someone in our community
Yes, we must all welcome suggestions to make J’Ouvert morning safe. We must also work to make weekends in the summer safe. At the same time suggestions must be more than just we don’t want someone to die on this particular block at this specific time. It must at least guide us to the goal of not wanting any block to have to deal with this trauma at any time.
Jumaane Willliams is a New York City Councilman representing several areas in Brooklyn