The Indian Delta variant forced New York City to cancel its official J’Ouvert festivities for the second straight year, but that didn’t stop Brooklyn’s Caribbean community from staging its own unofficial party before the crack of dawn on Monday.
With the New York Police Department keeping a close eye on the events, hundreds of Brooklynites dressed up in Caribbean garb descended on Eastern Parkway in the early morning hours of Monday and danced to the sounds of whistles and drums.
J’Ouvert, which marks the official start of the Caribbean carnival, is a tradition started by freed slaves after emancipation. Many were decked out in colourful costumes while waving the flags of their native Caribbean homelands.
The formal part of Brooklyn’s J’Ouvert is the steel drum parade, but celebrations often begin hours earlier.
The streets of the Crown Heights and Flatbush neighbourhoods fill up with people eating and drinking at barbecues and parties, carrying the flags of their countries, dousing one another with paint, and walking or dancing along with family and friends until daylight.
Large chunks of the West Indian community that resides in parts of Crown Heights and Flatbush have not been vaccinated, according to city data.
Figures show that only 28 percent of black New York City residents between the ages of 18 and 44 are fully vaccinated, compared to 49 percent of Hispanics, 52 percent of whites, and 82 percent of Asians in the same age group.
Brooklyn’s J’Ouvert festivities have been marred by violence in past years.
Last year, a mother and son were among five people wounded by gunfire when shots rang out at the intersection of Nostrand Avenue and Crown Street in Crown Heights.
In 2016, 17-year-old Tyreke Borel was shot in the chest and died. A 72-year-old woman was grazed in the arm by a bullet at the same location.
Soon after, a 22-year-old woman, Tiarah Poyau, was shot in the head just a block away and also died.
Some 300 people gathered for the pre-dawn procession last year to celebrate J’Ouvert. Video obtained by DailyMail.com shows festivalgoers screaming in terror and fleeing after gunshots rang out.
Just as he did this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio cancelled the official J’Ouvert celebration due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But many people got up early to recognize J’Ouvert – a pre-dawn party that signifies the launch of Carnival in Caribbean nations – before daybreak on Monday anyway.