By Jonathan Lemire
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK _ Colorful floats, elaborate costumes, politicians and merrymakers filled Brooklyn’s streets Monday for the annual West Indian Day Parade, a massive Caribbean celebration that was marred by a fatal shooting nearby before the official festivities got underway.
The annual parade _ which draws about 1 million people _ features loud music and louder costumes. Many revelers dance their way through much of the 2-mile (3.2-kilometre)-long route, which winds through some of the city’s most diverse neighbourhoods and draws scores of politicians eager for a big statement just a week before primary election day.
“I love the culture, the dancing, the food and the fun,” said Giovanni Oriol, 35, a Brooklyn resident of Haitian descent. “My culture is very important to me, and this is a celebration of all that is good about all of these people and places.”
But the march often kicks off under a shadow of violence, and this year’s was no different. Hours before the parade stepped off, a recent parolee opened fire on a crowd partaking in pre-dawn festivities not far from the parade site, police Commissioner William Bratton said. A 55-year-old man, identified as Michael Sampson, was killed and a 20-year-old woman and a 22-year-old man were both shot in their left legs. A 26-year-old man was taken into custody and faces charges including murder and assault.
Last year, two people were fatally stabbed at the parade, and a man was shot to death in 2011. Another man was killed in broad daylight on the parade route years earlier, and a photo of his body on the sidewalk ran in city tabloids.
Bratton said more than 4,000 police officers were deployed along the parade route, including dozens of undercover officers mingling with partygoers, and several police helicopters thundered above the festivities.
Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the importance of the parade despite the violence that has all-too-frequently surrounded it.
“The vast, vast majority have a wonderful time and only a few individuals get out of line,” he said after a breakfast attended by elected officials, parade organizers and local dignitaries before the parade.
“This parade started small, became big and is one of the great events in our city,” he said.
Sporting a colorful tribal shirt, the mayor was joined on the hot, humid day by his wife, Chirlane McCray, who is of Caribbean decent, and their children, Dante and Chiara. They received cheers throughout the march and frequently shook hands with revelers.
This was de Blasio’s first time marching as mayor; a year ago, the raucous reception he received at the parade foreshadowed his blowout win in the Democratic primary. He and his family marked the occasion last year by debuting a family dance they dubbed “The Smackdown,” which calls for them to pantomime licking their hands, swirling them over the heads, slapping their palms to the concrete and then jumping backward.
The burdens of office didn’t stop the family from delivering an encore performance Monday, drawing cheers from the sweaty crowd and a gasp from the parade’s master of ceremonies.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also received a warm welcome a week from his bid to reclaim the Democratic nomination for governor. He dismissed chatter that he could replace his choice for lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, amid a surge of support for a previously unheralded candidate, Tim Wu.
Cuomo has refused to debate Wu’s running mate, longshot candidate Zephyr Teachout, who has received a wave of favourable press and endorsements from liberal groups in recent weeks. She spent much of the parade granting interview requests when she wasn’t dancing and waving at flag-toting partiers.
The parade celebrates Caribbean culture and echoes traditional pre-Lenten Carnival festivities, with dancers wearing elaborate costumes, some of which are feathered, others quite revealing. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams was this year’s grand marshal.