Chris Sommerfeldt, Michael Elsen-Rooney
New York Daily News
New York City’s massive West Indian Day parade returned Monday for the first time since the start of the COVID pandemic in a joyful blaze of music, food and color.
Thousands of revelers lined Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway for the Labor Day event as marchers clad in colorful paint and costumes wound their way through Crown Heights for the annual celebration of the city’s West Indian communities.
This year’s festivities took on a special meaning, with the parade canceled the past two years because of COVID-19 concerns, said celebrants and city and state officials who turned out to mark the occasion.
“It’s been two years since we marched down the parkway with the music pulsating through our bodies, with all of us celebrating all that we have,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James at a community breakfast before the parade. “What this parade and what this carnival celebrates is the contributions of immigrants, and particularly immigrants of the Caribbean.”
The revelry began Sunday and continued through the night with the J’Ouvert celebration, the unofficial start of the carnival. Motor oil, brightly colored paint and discarded liquor bottles still littered the parade route Monday morning.
“Its J’Ouvert. It’s just pure culture. I’m gonna go home, wash off the paint and go out again,” said Genesis, from Bushwick, who declined to give her last name. “I haven’t slept since 7 yesterday morning. I’m about to fall asleep.”
The celebration marks the emancipation of slaves from Trinidad.
The festivities have been marred by violence in past years, but Mayor Adams said Monday that there have been no shootings tied to the celebration this year — and credited a collaboration between multiple city agencies for keeping the unrest in check.
“Historically, we get the parade and then law enforcement later,” Adams said. “We did something new this year — we did law enforcement first.”
Adams said the NYPD worked with the Buildings and Transportation Departments to address concerns that didn’t rise to the level of police action or were better handled by other agencies.
“We were out there, we were using an unbelievable set of tools,” Adams told reporters. “We said, ‘Everyone must be on Team Safety.’ So we went to an illegal garage that was having a party. The police couldn’t do anything. But you know what? Department of Buildings was able to do so.”
NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said she instructed her officers, who were lined up in large numbers along the parade route Monday, to use a light touch during the celebration.
“Last night when we turned out our police officers, detectives and supervisors, we explained to them that this is a celebration,” Sewell said. “This is a festival of pride, of heritage, of tradition and family. It’s really our job here to engage and assist in that celebration.”
An NYPD officer was even spotted partaking in the celebrations. A video shows a festively dressed parade goer dance with the officer during the parade.
The crowd cheered and seemed to enjoy the spectacle. According to the NY Post, a police rep confirmed the NYPD isn’t planning to punish the cop for dancing while on duty.
Kimbaly Joy Parris, 55, said she was thrilled that no violence has cast a shadow over the occasion.
“It’s my heritage and it’s about togetherness, no matter where we are from,” said the Brooklyn resident of Trinidadian background. “I’m hoping I don’t see anything negative on the news this evening.”
Adams marched in the parade with a group of officials from his administration and stopped along the way to chat with violence interrupters who try to identify simmering conflicts and stop them before they escalate.
The parade drew visitors from across the city, state and globe.
Shawn Pollard, 34, came all the way from Belize to celebrate.
”We want to see the variety of people, of all the cultures,” he said. “We came from Belize last week. It’s about all the different Caribbean cultures.”
Other revelers said they were particularly grateful to be sampling the parade’s culinary offerings once again.
“This time is just to celebrate the culture, the food, the people, the music and the energy,” said Reginal Saintil, 31, who lives on Long Island but traces his roots to Haiti. ”To be honest, I’m really here for the food.”
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said that in order for the parade to continue growing and thriving its organizers need more city and state funding. The parade regularly draws over 100,000 revelers.
“This is the largest [West Indian Day] parade in North America, and they are not receiving the accolades and funding that they deserve for that,” he said. “So let’s get some money for these folks.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday’s parade was a triumphant celebration of the city’s immigrant communities.
“Today is a great day for New York,” he said. “It’s a great day for America, because the more Caribbean-Americans we have in Brooklyn, the more Caribbean-Americans we have in the country, the better America is.”