The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Monday, September 7, 2015


The Q's been in NYC for 27 years. He's been to all kinds of parties and celebrations. For sheer exuberance and musicianship and joy, there is nothing quite like J'Ouvert. I was having too much fun last night at 4:30 am to shoot a lot of video, but below you'll see the beginning of the early morning parade before the Parade. Starting at GAP and going down Flatbush to Empire then east, J'ouvert has none of the absurdly loud decibel-busting trucks and much less of the giant shimmery outfits that make Carnival so instantly recognizable. The pulsing sound of drums and chanting mix with the powder and oil and paint to make it feel more primal & proudly spiritual than, say, Burning Man or an E-laden rave. One truckbed had an entire female drum contingent, led by a monster player on the kit. Others had steel pan bands. Almost all the music was acoustic, but loud enough to dance to. The handful of Caucasians seemed to struggle to find their groove, maybe just out from parties or bars, but awed. Almost every face was smiling, and shrieks of laughter and big hugs broke out every few seconds as friends found each other. The anticipation of morning, mixed with not-a-faint whiff of ganja and rum, means anything is possible and cares are forgotten.

You've undoubtedly heard about the violence that accompanied the early early morning. Whether related directly to the event or not, you can pretty much count on a steady stream of chest-thumping about how this unique event should be reconsidered. In my view, the cops do a generally terrific job of keeping order without taking the occasional rowdy bait thrown their way. Mostly I saw people being respectful and cordial with police, some visibly glad for the sense of security that a security detail assures. And yet, as with nearly every parade since I got to NYC, a shooting or two or three, a couple stabbings, some fights happened through the night. Is it extraordinary to have shootings on a warm Labor Day night? Historically, not really. Should we expect better? Of course. On some level, given the extraordinary party atmosphere and huge crowds throughout Crown Heights and East and West Flatbush, I'm surprised there isn't MORE violence. Not because this is a particularly violent event; far from it, it's joyous and loving and uplifting. But because there continue to be a small but deadly bunch of (mostly) young men hell bent on destruction and revenge. Add to that a heavy buzz and a firearm or knife and, well...It's like a giant club with no metal detectors. Even ballparks frisk you on the way in. This is a big, sprawling mass of parties. Tooling around the neighborhood at 11pm then 5am I couldn't believe how varied and happy was the partying.

I saw Inspector Fitzgibbon at Bedford and Empire not long after an aide to Governor Cuomo was shot in the head, and another person got shot in the finger, and many fled towards the 7/11. The 71st commander was resigned to the fact that it might be a long, long day. In fact, the worst had already happened. More than a million people enjoyed the parade in relative peace. It was hot. Damn hot. Some kids were enjoying their very first Carnival, and assuming no one gets rash and over-zealous, they'll be back for more.

And while it's easy to blame this big raucous street party for the violence, it's probably true too that the answer to all the violence is just as apparent in the bonds of friendship, family and faith that brought so many people together to begin with.


JMB said...

Not that there's an "acceptable" amount of violence or death we can or should endure--it is all unacceptable--but note that Chicago had six dead this weekend, including a toddler's severed head found floating in a lagoon. And they didn't even have a million strong party. Just a warm summer weekend.

kimplicated said...

Agreed with CFB and JMB. I was out at J'Ouvert as a solo (white) woman and felt totally safe. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and damn was the dancing great.

Carmen said...

Thank you so much for this article! Its sad that there's any violence at all. Its important to understand that there isn't a correlation between violence and an event attended by millions of people. Do we correlate what happens before, during, and after Mardi Gras with the event? Nope.

thebusiness said...

How about hiring private security and have them patrol along the route during jouvert in collaboration with the NYPD to spot out troublemakers and squash any confrontations before it erupts into violence? Or get community activists, the NYPD and parade organizers with members of the community to help weed out the knuckleheads and stress it to those attending that violence of any sort will not be tolerated and we will be looking for any problems? We all know there are a few troublemakers who act a fool in this event but how many people have to get shot before the organizers and NYPD take the necessary step that will guarantee to safety of all those attending? I'm sorry but we have be security conscious when it comes to this.

I've attended the ST Paddys Parade and I would find it annoying to deal with the hordes of intoxicated men and women screaming, yelling, passing out, vomiting and urinating all over the city (riding the train with them is a nightmare) but I never thought I would have to worry about my life being in danger or the fear of getting caught in some nonsense. It's more of an inconvenience than fear. With jouvert, and at times, the parade depending on what part of Eastern Parkway you are on, I have to and those attending have to as well. It shouldn't have to be that way.

Anonymous said...

Are there other festivals or parades that are allowed to go on throughout the night into the early hours of the morning? I understand that's part of the tradition with J'ouvert, but combine the middle of the night with a few bad eggs, thousands of people, and cops told to look the other way (according to the Post), and it isn't surprising that these things happen. Glad people enjoyed the parade, but frankly, Monday morning from 2-8am is always miserable for those of us who live along the parade route.

babs said...

Thank you Ms. Carmen! What else to say? I remember many years ago being on Norfolk St. on the LES seeing all these crazy drunk white types outside of Tonic, and I said to him, "If these people were black the police would be all over." Yep.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

To be clear...J'Ouvert is going to happen's going to happen. It started informally, and would likely go back to being informal. And therefore (in my opinion) just as dangerous or more so. The police presence and formal route have (again in my opinion) a calming effect. Most in 99.99%...want to have a fun, safe time.

Couple things. First, Manhattan's not going to want the parade. They already bitch and moan about the other parades, particularly (shocker) the Puerto Rican parade. We're not the only neighborhood asked to put up with a loud, festive celebration. Every been in Chinatown for Chinese New Year? It's like living during the Blitz.

Second. Why say that this shooting had anything to do with the parade? Isn't it more likely a crew resentment that happened to play out AT the Parade? Could've been, I dunno, Ali's Hookah Lounge instead. Wait, that already happened.

I think people need to realize just how likely a shooting in the vicinity of the Parade would've been ANYway. Up to 2 million people! Parties in five distinct neighborhoods. In the middle of Brooklyn, which is WAY safer than it was 20 years ago. But hey, it's still Brooklyn, not Brooklyn the brand.

And most of all, if you feel you're at risk, don't go. But please let's get off the idea that canceling or moving the parade would mean no one would get shot or stabbed on Labor Day Weekend.

Lastly, wild parties are allowed all over the City late into the night. They're called clubs, bars and music festivals, loft parties and holidays and street festivals. Putting the genie back in the bottle fairly and culturally sensitively will be very difficult indeed. But hey, if this is the way you want to spend your protest hours, by all means go ahead.

ctrldwn said...

How about turning j'ouvert into a concert themed event? I personally think it would be nice if the organizers could find soca, calypso, reggae artists and live bands who could perform on stage. Create something like a safe zone. From block A to Block B, this will be a protected zone for those attending. Set up a stage near the park or something like that and have people enjoy music, food and dancing. Revelers will be searched and those carrying weapons will be arrested on sight. This will be a controlled environment and it will keep out any potential troublemakers. Just thought I would throw it out there.

Anonymous said...

As a white person living in the PLG for 5 years now, I look forward to J'Ouvert every year. I was out walking my dogs up Bedford and down Nostrand and loved seeing everyone getting ready to celebrate. I hope the tradition continues.