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J'Ouvert parade moved to daylight after years of deadly bloodshed

Three years in a row, violence has resulted in deaths at the J'Ouvert celebration in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
J'Ouvert 2016
The city has said it won't cancel J'Ouvert, so additional changes are being made to ensure the safety of participants and spectators. Photo: Facebook/Jouvertcity

The pre-dawn Caribbean festival of J’Ouvert has been marred by violence in New York City. “J’Ouvert” means “daybreak,” but this year, the festivities will take place in the daylight in an effort to stave off bloodshed.

J’Ouvert is a Labor Day event, an antecedent to Carnival and the New York Caribbean Carnival Parade, that takes place on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. (The event precedes but is not affiliated with the New York Caribbean Carnival Parade.)

Changes to J’Ouvert in 2017

“We’ve been working on this since the day after J’Ouvert last year, working with the community, working with [Brooklyn Borough President] Eric Adams, Laurie Cumbo from the City Council, with the community and the people who run the J’Ouvert parade. This is the best decision going forward to try to keep people as safe as possible,” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said on Friday,  DNAInfo reported.

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Rather than begin festivities at 4 a.m. to herald in the daylight, officials have decided to begin the celebration when the sun is already up at 6 a.m. The revelry of Caribbean culture on Sept. 4 will end at 11 a.m.

“We are extremely concerned that darkness is when everything [bad] happens,” Yvette Rennie, president of the parade organization J’Ouvert City International, told the New York Daily News.

“Based on what happened in those consecutive years, we felt that it was very important that we bring it more into light,” she said, adding that her group proposed the change.

Sources said the decision was made about a week and a half ago, after several meetings between the NYPD and J’Ouvert City International.

The parade route — from Grand Army Plaza, down Flatbush Avenue and Nostrand Avenue — has not been changed at this time.

There will be anti-gang violence and educational events in the weeks ahead of the Sept. 4 parade, officials said.

History of violence defaced the West Indian festival.

Crown Heights residents have expressed concerns over the brutality for years, particularly after three consecutive years of fatal shootings at J’Ouvert, but Mayor Bill de Blasio said last year that J’Ouvert will not be canceled.

Despite increased police presence and extra lighting towers, two young people were fatally shot in 2016. In 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's aide Carey Gabay killed after being caught in gang crossfire.

“We have all the agencies working with us,” Rennie told the Daily News. “The whole theme is, they are not going to shut down J’Ouvert. We are going to find measures to continue J’Ouvert.”

What is J’Ouvert?

“J’Ouvert” in French-based creole means “daybreak” and the festivities begin pre-dawn, typically around 2 a.m.

The celebration involves calypso/soca bands and dancing in the streets. Carnival was introduced to Trinidad by French settlers in 1783. French slaves were not invited to the masquerade balls, so they would stage mini-carnivals in their yards by combining folklore and sometimes mockery of their owners.

When slaves were emancipated in 1838, former slaves had the chance to participate in Carnaval. In Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada, a part of the tradition involves smearing paint, mud or oil on the bodies of participants known as "Jab Jabs.”

J’Ouvert celebrates the dirty (being smeared with mud was a way to stay unrecognized during civil disobedience) while “Pretty Mas” the next day celebrates with glitter, feathers and beaded costumes.

The Pretty Mas parade is associated with the establishment.