How Eric Adams Misguided Belief in Policing Put Revelers in Harm’s Way at 2016 J’ouvert Celebration

Theodore Hamm Jun 10, 2021

In the pre-dawn hours of Labor Day six years ago, two attendees to Brooklyn’s annual J’ouvert celebration were killed. That one, Carey Gabay, happened to be a Harvard Law graduate and Cuomo administration official generated significant media attention.

In the wake of the violence, city leaders debated whether the festivities (which started at 2 a.m. and annually drew 250,000 people to Crown Heights) should continue. Along with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, Brooklyn’s top elected official argued that the next J’ouvert could happen safely.

Amid the run-up to the 2016 J’ouvert, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams told the New York Times that even though “all it takes is a few who would rather use the cloak of darkness to celebrate their craft of criminality, we’re saying ‘not this year.’ ”

Eric Adams. Photo: Courtesy.

Adams and Bratton highlighted the NYPD’s new safety measures, which included doubling police presence and 200 floodlights, a five-fold increase. For the first time in the event’s 22-year history, the J’ouvert festivities had received a permit from the city.

A few days prior to Labor Day weekend, the NYPD conducted a high-profile gang raid in Crown Heights, seizing firearms. Adams, a retired NYPD captain, praised the effort as a “particularly impactful takedown” that showed how the police were helping prepare for “a safe and peaceful celebration of cultural pride.”

Around Crown Heights, the NYPD posted fliers that warned J’ouvert attendees, “Do not shoot anyone. Do not stab anyone.” Adams and Bratton said that parole and probation officers, “accompanied” by cops, would be on-hand to keep an eye on gang members. Yes, there would be community input, with business owners asked to keep their lights on and violence interrupters conducting extra outreach, but it was clear that the NYPD was in control of the planning.

All the precautions failed, however. Amid the early morning revelry in 2016, two J’ouvert attendees were killed by gunfire and two others were wounded, including a woman in her seventies. One of the shootings took place near where NYPD brass were stationed.  

City officials now increased calls to shut down J’ouvert, with Mayor de Blasio stating that the closure option was “on the table.” Despite his pre-event assurances, Bratton now claimed that “it was always a disaster waiting to happen.” But Adams held firm, vowing that the event must go on. “We need to be clear,” he told the New York Post. “New York City and NYPD do not surrender to violence, violence surrenders to us.”

Over the past few months, amid a spike in violent crime in the city, Adams has made his policing experience central to his mayoral campaign. As his handling of the violence at J’ouvert shows, that background leads him to promote the false hope that cops have the solution to every problem.

• • •

Shortly after the 2016 J’ouvert, NY1 political anchor Errol Louis hosted a memorable roundtable discussion about the event’s future, with Adams joined by fellow Brooklyn elected officials Jumaane Williams, Laurie Cumbo and Kevin Parker. It was a heated exchange, in which Louis, a Crown Heights resident, demanded answers from the four politicians about what could be done to stop the violence at J’ouvert.

“We don’t give up as a police department,” insisted Adams, who retired from the NYPD a decade earlier. “We cannot say that we cannot have an event, no matter what time of night it is, because we can’t ensure public safety. That is my belief as a police officer—we’re the best in the business.”

Louis then asked the panel whether “it was fair to promote the event, telling people that it would be safe, when we all know it’s not safe?” As Louis observed, the hype from Adams and Bratton had led many of the quarter-million attendees to believe they would be protected, but instead “people got shot.”

Amid the planning for the 2017 J’ouvert, Adams shared his views with Vice. Despite the bloodshed for the past two years, Adams again claimed that “the police department will make it safe.” Adams then blamed a specific group for the complaints about the event: white gentrifiers.

According to Adams:

Subconsciously, people dislike J'ouvert because it's not what they know. It is not sponsored by Starbucks. It does not serve artisanal food. It is not what people consider to be the New Brooklyn. It's old Brooklyn. There is nothing chic or hipster about it.

Notably, the same Vice story featured comments from longtime Crown Heights residents calling for the event to be shut down, but Adams opted to sow division.

In 2017, the city moved the start time of J’ouvert from 4 a.m. to 6:30 a.m (a change that Adams supported). Through the 2019 edition, there were no notable outbreaks of violence.

“Police are never going to be the only answer to [preventing] violence,” Jumaane Williams said in the roundtable after the 2016 bloodshed, which, as Williams stressed, took place despite the NYPD’s massive show of force.

Yet in recent months on the campaign trail, Adams has assured voters that under his administration, the NYPD would curb violence across the city, from domestic disputes in Park Slope to gun battles in tourist destinations in which cops are already everywhere.

Whether he will prevail in this year’s election is unclear. But one thing is certain: no matter what title he holds, Adams will always see the world through the eyes of a cop.

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