By Karen Williams
Special To NAN
News Americas, BROOKLYN, NY, Fri. Sept. 9, 2016: At 4:00 a.m. on Labor Day Monday, September 5, 016, I inched my way through mud/powder/paint/oil smeared bodies of J’Ouvert revelers gathered at Grand Army Plaza.
The pre-dawn light cast a magical, eerie hue on the adjacent trees in Prospect Park. Police officers like silhouetted blue statues kept vigilance along the sidewalks as I joined the Philly Pan Stars, whose red, tinsel-fringed truck glittered on Flatbush Avenue. Melodious sounds from steel pan drums filled the cannabis and tobacco-scented night air.
By 4:30 a.m. a sizable crowd had gathered. Newcomers (mostly white) glowed with excitement at the scene and seemed awed watching small packs of scantily clad, late teen/early 20s partiers shower themselves with baby powder while whining and wuking up their waistlines with complete abandon.
Seasoned oldies of course, accustomed to poppy show, paid them no mind. Several people sipped rum or water from juice bottles; everyone gently swayed side-to-side in rhythm with the pan. The vibe was celebratory but chill.
Just after 5:00 a.m., a herd of frantic people appeared from Empire Blvd., the direction we needed to be heading. I assumed that folks got fed up waiting for the pan truck and decided to meet it instead. Oiled up black and blue devils threatening to pounce with slimy black tar tried to stir up the mellow crowd. Cowbells jingled incessantly as a succession of rum-laced male breath and bodies pressed aggressively against me from behind embodying Buju Garlins’ lyrics, “Tell dem we bad…bad like ah Jab Jab/on ah Jouvert morning…” Since I’m neither Destra’s ‘professional bumpa shaker’ or a ‘neck breaker,’ I heeded Garlins’ instructions, “Cover up allyuh self…[and]…if yuh don’t move when we move, we leave yuh by yourself…”and was blissfully left alone.
Around 6:10 a.m. our procession finally reached Empire Blvd. There were no obvious signs that anything was amiss. The glaring police sirens punctuating the morning light seemed part of the NYPD’s added security measures. Although we hadn’t completed the J’Ouvert route, feeling sated, I decided to head home.
10:00 a.m. I woke to the horrifying news – in less than three hours, 2 people had been killed and 4 others were injured. I spent the rest of Labor Day 2016 mourning 17-year-old Tyreke Borel and 22-year-old Tiarah Poyau, whom I’d never met and whose lives and dreams clearly did not matter to their killers.
Upon your penitential morning,
some skull must rub its memory with ashes,
some mind must squat down howling in your dust,
some hand must crawl and recollect your rubbish,
someone must write your poems.
– excerpt from “Mass Man” by Derek Walcott
So Wednesday September 7, 2016 was my penitential day of mourning – a time to reflect and bear witness on how the actions of a few people affect even those who did not participate.
J’ouvert is meant to be a celebration of Caribbean pride, emancipation and resistance, not a demonstration of macabre and senseless madness. Issues like poverty and easy access to guns do not excuse unacceptable behavior. Murder, harming, and devaluing a human life are wrong and they’re not what Machal means when he sings, “Show dem de culture…Is ah part ah yuh nature…It in we blood, eh eh, eh…”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Karen Williams is a U.S. born, Jamaican raised independent film producer.