CROWN HEIGHTS, Brooklyn (WABC) -- Excitement is in the air in Brooklyn, as J'Ouvert festivities and the West Indian American Day Parade return in full force for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Enthusiastic crowds started gathering before dawn.
The sounds of J'Ouvert kicked off the day's celebration at 6 a.m., ringing up and down Flatbush Avenue starting at Grand Army Plaza.
"J'Ouvert means the dawn of a new day, which is post-emancipation of slavery," said one onlooker. "It's supposed to express freedom."
For many, this festival has become tradition: decades of taking to the streets to celebrate and share Caribbean culture.
"I've been doing this since I was a child. It's a part of my heritage," said one attendee.
"I'm so thankful to participate in my culture and I'm letting all the stress out," another told Eyewitness News.
The event has been marred by violence in past years, but not this year.
Mayor Eric Adams celebrated that fact this morning speaking at a West Indian Day breakfast event ahead of the big parade.
"Safe night," he said. "Not one shooting last night in J'Ouvert. Not one!"
The West Indian-American Day Carnival Parade continued the celebrations at 11 a.m., running westbound along Eastern Parkway from Ralph Avenue.
It is New York City's proudest, fullest display of West Indian culture, and it's loud, colorful and spicy.
The Lions Club marchers led off the festivities, setting the pace for the day.
"We didn't have one in a long time," said street vendor Jamel King. "It is nice out here. You got every culture out there who wanna enjoy life."
Flatbush Avenue from Grand Army Plaza to Empire Boulevard and Eastern Parkway from Utica Avenue to Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn are closed from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for both celebrations.
The NYPD says security for the event is tight.
All bags and other containers will be inspected for firearms and other dangerous weapons and no large backpacks, weapons, or alcohol are permitted
The entire parade route is a barricaded "frozen zone," and the only points of entry -- at the beginning, middle and end -- are being monitored by supervisors on site and through video surveillance.
The security precautions are similar to those undertaken for large events like the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square, and virtually identical to the security protocols for the last full-size J'Ouvert and West Indian Day Parade in 2019.
"They proved to be well-received by both the community and the NYPD and it was quite successful," NYPD Chief of Patrol Jeffrey Maddrey said. "There were zero acts of violence recorded at our last J'Ouvert."
Josh Einiger rode along with NYPD officers to discuss security measures:
"We know historically the problems that we've had at these events, and it had nothing to do with the people who came out to celebrate their heritage and culture, and the people who came out to have a good time," Maddrey said. "It was a relatively small few, a few bad actors, who came out here to senselessly engage in violence, sometimes just for the sake of doing it."
Those bad actors often haunt Trenelle Gabay who lost her husband Carey in 2015. He was shot in the head when he was caught between a shootout while celebrating J'Ouvert.
"There is no excuse, none whatsoever, to turn to gangs but so often our communities lack the resources," Gabay said.
His legacy now lives on in the Carey Gabay Recreation Center which served as the backdrop Friday as leaders urged the community to learn about the vibrant West Indian culture and not link it to violence.
"We want to make sure again that this festivity is a way of celebration of all of the diverse contributions to the Caribbean culture in New York City," GodSquad President Pastor Gil Monrose said.
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