For the second time in two years, the annual fun for thousands of early morning partygoers was brought to an abrupt halt when numerous fights broke out along the J’ouvert route, spoiling the morning for the throngs who came out to enjoy one another in music and dance.
Despite a massive police presence, at least one person was stabbed Thursday on the parade route, police reported. The stabbing victim was transported to the Schneider Regional Medical Center for treatment of wounds police believe to be non-life threatening.
The blatant daylight violence forced St. Thomas Police Chief Rodney F. Querrard to call a stop to the annual festivities at 10:45 a.m.
"This was our last resort, to stop the J’ouvert," Querrard said, "but we are concerned with the safety of everyone. It’s not safe to have several fights going on at once in the streets."
A 16-year-old minor, arrested and charged with first-degree robbery for stealing a gold chain at gunpoint from another minor near Western Cemetery earlier in the morning, is the same suspect involved in the stabbing, police said.
Querrard said, "We will continue to provide safety and security to the Carnival events. The last thing we want to do is shut down an event, but we will if the safety of the public is in jeopardy."
Deputy Chief Dwayne DeGraff cautioned, "Everyone needs to do their part for Carnival safety. If you see a situation escalating, turn to your friends or family and tell them to ‘hold it down’ or tell a police officer."
In the 2009 celebration, by 9:30 a.m., two stabbings and a shooting on the parade route were enough to make then Police Commissioner James McCall stop the music.
"After the second incident, I called off J’ouvert," McCall said at the time, expressing the same regrets and cautions Querrard voiced Thursday.
Before the violence broke out, the morning had all the makings of a wonderful day for a wonderful time.
Expectation had hung in the air early Thursday morning as thousands of J’ouvert partiers – seated on walls, crowded together on sidewalks – awaited in a kind of stasis, for the sounds of the first band to set the massive morning party in motion.
At 7:35 the Cool Sessions Brass band truck lurched forward in its slow crawl from West of Addelita Cancryn Junior High school, horns blaring, the notes beckoning the partiers to follow, hands held on high, invoking in a somewhat louder version, the spirit of the children of Hamelin following the Pied Piper.
With an unidentified voice ringing out "I smell Carnival, Baby," the fun began. Let the horns blare, the spirits rise, dancing never end – J’ouvert for the 59th celebration – "Let our Cultural Spirit Enliven Carnival 2011" – was in motion.
Many had been waiting since 4 a.m., the scheduled start of Roas-A-Time, or J’ouvert. Though most knew better – nobody can say exactly when the party started on time – waiting is just part of the morning tradition.
In fact, it’s a special bonding before the jump-up begins. Being up that early in the morning, watching together as the sun slowly appears over Charlotte Amalie harbor, its orange rays inviting the crowd to the dawn, while clutches of sea gulls look on.
An older gentleman looked comfortable, seated on a light standard, arms folded. "I guess I’ve been doing this for 15 years," he said. "I got here at 4 a.m.; I always do. I don’t mind. I like the music."
A trio of young women, dressed in shorts and colorful beads, had similar attitudes. Seated firmly on the sidewalk, one said, "Well, we’re happy. We’re just waiting for Daddy Jones and Crew. We love them."
A strong police presence, along with the V.I. National Guard and other agencies patrolled the streets in clumps of three of more, with emergency vehicles in sight. They staggered the bands at the Cancryn intersection, holding one in place until another was on its way.
A small covey of V.I. Police Department cadets huddled together watching the action under the eyes of an adult police officer, who couldn’t give his name but suggested talking to the cadets.
It turns out the group’s supervisor, Masai Warrior Francis, 18, is a veteran. "This is my third J’ouvert," he said. He praised Sgt. Bridget Conow, territorial coordinator of the cadet program, who clearly must have stressed manners.
Ivanna Eudora Kean High School senior Roquan David, 17, was calm, but clearly agog with his new responsibilities. "This is my very first time," he said. "We have to make sure nobody is injured, or assist people if they need help. Right now, it’s still sort of quiet," he added with a smile.
It wasn’t quiet for long as the bands careened down Veterans Drive, the crowds surging after Jam Band, the island’s perennial favorite, which is celebrating its 31st year. Spectrum Band played the popular "Boom," drawing crowds of its own.
Robin and Grace Ballard set their own style, riding bikes. In a tip of the hat to the morning, Grace wore smart black-and-white woven socks reaching her thighs. Though bikes aren’t usually seen, Robin said they’d been at this for a couple years.
The crowd broke up Thursday not in its usual high spirits, but with celebrants decrying the violence which insinuated itself on a celebration which takes its fun seriously – a celebration in which a handful of young men had managed to ruin the fun for the thousands of peaceful partygoers.
Once again, hold the PARENTS of these Juvenile delinquents responsible (as they should be)
and you will see change.
“Let our Cultural Spirit Enliven Carnival 2011” Hey and I guess it did – two for two – let’s see if the Caribbean Thugs can make it three in a row! A beautiful paradise on earth has been taken over by criminal thugs and murders and the weak and ineffective VIPD dem dance around like Moko Jumbies while the sanctity of our beautiful paradise is violated beyond control. Wake up people! It’s not getting better – it’s getting worse. See, if it will be three in a row.