The NYPD Misbehaved at The West Indian Day Parade; So Did We. But Was Our Behavior Worth Their Horrific FB Rants?
I’m a proud West Indian. But if I were a member of the New York Police Department, just like many of the officers cited in the now controversial Facebook group, “No More West Indian Day Detail,” I wouldn’t want to work at the West Indian American Day Parade either.
For several years now, New York has been my home, but anyone who knows me has little, if any doubt about my loyalty to my West Indian heritage. I’m perennially waving the blue, yellow and black colours (with a “u”) of my beautiful homeland Barbados. And while I never let anyone forget it’s “Barbados uh come from,” I’m just as vocal in promoting the fact that I’m a bit of what we in the Caribbean call a “callaloo” – the offspring of a Vincentian mother and a Trinidadian father. With that and having lived on three islands in our region, I relish the title “Caribbean woman.”
Yes, I was bred and born in the Caribbean. It’s there I learned about and practiced using the Oxford comma. It’s there I climbed every imaginable tropical fruit tree from mango to coconut. There I had my first kiss and my first heartbreak. It’s in the Caribbean I ran through deep gullies, played cricket on country roads, football (soccer) on lofty green pastures, soaked for countless carefree hours in crystal clear sea waters and basked under golden sunlight on white sand beaches.
My favourite food to cook and eat is Caribbean cuisine. My favourite genres of music are Caribbean: reggae; soca; calypso. And equally musical are my favourite accents – Caribbean. Even my favourite type of man is Caribbean. Everything synonymous with the culture of that chain of islands to the south and west of the North Atlantic Ocean is deeply imbedded in me. I love the Caribbean: our lands, our traditions, our people.
With this type of unconditional love, one can understand that I would always be ready to defend my people no matter where I roam. It’s hard when living in New York, not to adapt to the way of life here, but I’ve tried as much as possible to keep a firm grasp on my Caribbean roots. One key aspect of that is the annual West Indian Carnival – a fixture on my calendar. For the past 10 years, my friends Leona, Renae and I – each of us petite and barely past five feet tall – skillfully maneuver our way through the thick two-million strong crowd on Eastern Parkway for a spot directly behind the crowd control barriers. From there, we absorb the kaleidoscope of creativity: decorative floats; masqueraders in mardi gras style costumes gyrating to the catchy island rhythms blaring from massive music trucks; food stalls smelling of tasty delights from jerk chicken to codfish fritters; and old familiar faces that only reappear at such events.
It was always a day of sheer abandon: an occasion where despite the enormous gathering, we never feared for our safety. It was always an authentic of celebration our heritage in a foreign land – a day where we were all especially proud to be West Indian. But some of those elements started to change for us over the past couple of years. We started having to protect ourselves from rowdy throngs of people jumping over the crowd control barriers, sometimes barely missing our heads and sending parents with young children scampering for cover. We’d watch boisterous groups in street clothing disrupt masqueraders who’d paid to be part of the parade. We’d see sober, drunk and disorderly ignore the warnings (of the less than adequate number) of NYPD officers to it keep moving along the Parkway. These folks would instead block the streets creating an overflow and causing the parade to stall. Such actions would prevent several floats from making it onto the parade since there’s a a deadline by which they must do so. We started seeing lots of fist fights and I’ve experienced strange men trying to touch me. This year it turned totally bloody with a record number of shootings including three deaths.
From last year, my friends and I discussed not to returning to the parade; this year pretty much confirmed it. It angered me to see the level of violence, plain vulgarity, scant disregard for the safety of others and utter out-of-control behaviour exhibited by my people. This was no celebration of the beauty that is Caribbean. This year for the the first time ever, I bowed my head in shame as a West Indian.
Yet in all my disappointment, I wouldn’t want for anyone to “drop a bomb and wipe them all out” as one of the NYPD officers said in the Facebook rant. As upset as I am, I wouldn’t make a sweeping generalization like some of the other officers labeling us “animals” or “savages,” nor would I call the event a “scheduled riot.” I simply cannot condone any of this.
Yet, if my people want this carnival to continue, they must re-examine the significance of this event, they must respect their heritage, they must remember what it means to be Caribbean and that’s what they need to bring to the parade.
So no, I wouldn’t want to work at the West Indian American Day Parade if I were in the NYPD. Because if my people truly display all that is Caribbean, even the cops that hurled racist remarks at us and wish us dead – would want to be a “part” of the parade; they’d each want to be a West Indian.
~ I Keep it Irie ~