Brooklyn’s annual Carnival returned in jubilant fashion on Labor Day, as huge crowds filled Empire Boulevard starting at 6 a.m. for the rowdy J’Ouvert festivities. Those concluded at around 11 a.m to make way for the main event: The West Indian Day Parade, which strutted, danced, marched and partied its way up Eastern Parkway through the afternoon.
“I live in Crown Heights. I’ve been coming to J’Ouvert all my life, and this means everything to me,” Loreen Eisler, who was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, told Brooklyn Magazine in the early morning hours on Empire Boulevard. “It’s about my people. It’s about my country. The neighborhood comes together, every island comes together as one family, and it’s very important to celebrate our culture, to keep it going.”
J’Ouvert, which roughly translates from the French to “break of day,” has its roots in the emancipation of enslaved people in the Caribbean. The festivities feature steel-pan bands, folkloric costumes — especially of the Jab Molassie character, who sports devil horns — and the ritualistic smearing of bodies with paint and motor oil.
“J’Ouvert brings back so many memories to me,” said Crown Heights resident Emma Jean Spencer. “Because even though I came to this country from Trindad 65 years ago, I still have my traditions, and I like coming out here and seeing my people. I always ask them to just behave themselves: no fighting, no killing. And so far, so good. We have a lot of protection. The cops are out here and search us and everything. It feels safe.”
The Police Department had taken special precautions this year to prevent shootings along the crowded parade route, including the somewhat controversial deployment of drones for surveillance and contacting 40 known gang members to request a peaceful parade.
That said, the NYPD did report a shooting later in the day that injured three people at 5:21 p.m. blocks from the parade route (and a second incident where a man apparently shot himself in the leg), according to the New York Daily News. All were reportedly in good condition, with one refusing medical attention.
After J’Ouvert, the party moved up along Eastern Parkway, where an estimated 2 million people came out for the big parade. There were bands, church groups, unions, resplendent sequined and feathered costumes, tons of teenagers still hyped from J’Ouvert, and corporate-sponsored floats blasting music at bone-rattling volumes, much to the delight of the packs of revelers who trailed alongside.
There were also politicians galore, of course, including Governor Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams, Senator Chuck Schumer, and New York Attorney General Letitia James. But no one appeared to have more fun than the trio of Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Brooklyn Borough President Anthony Reynoso, and Comptroller Brad Lander, who danced and jumped around together along with dozens of supporters astride Williams’s float.
“I love everything about this day,” said Crown Heights resident Maria Reid. “It’s about all the Caribbean cultures, the costumes, the music, the entertainment, the different traditions. So long as we can all come together and enjoy it, respectfully, it’s the best thing ever. I’m waiting for the big bands to come by so I can jump right in.”
Here are a few more photos of the festivities along Eastern Parkway.