After Bloodshed, Some In NYC Question West Indian Day Parade
NEW YORK -- Some city residents wondered Tuesday if it's time to pull the plug on the gaudy West Indian Day parade, scarred by violence repeatedly in the last few years, after two people were killed in a wild police shootout just blocks from its route.
"I was saying to myself a while ago they probably should shut it down," said Winston Thomas, a 66-year-old who moved from Jamaica to Brooklyn, site of the annual Caribbean-themed Labor Day parade, 40 years ago. "If you create this kind of atmosphere where you're killing people all the time, it don't make sense. ... I stay away from it."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg blamed illegal handguns for a post-parade exchange Monday night between police and a gunman. The shooting left the gunman's target and a bystander dead and the gunman gravely wounded, police said Tuesday. Two officers suffered minor injuries.
The bystander, 56-year-old Denise Gay, was shot while sitting on a stoop with her daughter just two doors down from the exchange of gunfire. Police said they were awaiting the results of ballistics tests to determine whether Gay was hit by a stray bullet from the gunman or by one of eight officers who fired a total of 73 bullets at him.
The shooting capped a dramatic spike in gun violence in recent days across the city. There were 52 shootings for a four-day period starting Friday, including three along the parade route Monday afternoon, police said.
The parade was marred by fatal shootings in 2003 and 2005.
Bloomberg said Gay's death was "a senseless murder and another painful reminder, I think, of what happens when elected officials in Washington fail to take the problem of illegal guns seriously."
The Brooklyn block where Gay lived was cordoned off with police tape Tuesday. Neighbors said the area – a gentrifying slice of Crown Heights where hip coffee shops abut discount stores and West Indian bakeries – is generally safe.
"This is a very safe neighborhood," resident Dennis McGreevy said. "This is one incident that happened here, that because it involves an innocent bystander and because it involves the police, has drawn a lot of news coverage."
The gunshots rang out just after 9 p.m. Monday after the hours-long parade. The shooting, though near the parade route, was not directly linked to the festivities, police said Tuesday.
A group of officers who were assigned to the parade converged on a home after seeing the gunman emerge and shoot at a man who was fleeing in the direction of Gay's address on the same block. The gunman turned his pistol on the officers despite orders to drop it, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said.
One volley from the officers downed the man in his doorway, Browne said. When he started to rise and shoot again, they fired a second volley, which left him with chest and hip wounds, police said. He was hospitalized Tuesday in critical condition.
The shooter's target – a neighbor with whom he had been arguing – was hit in the neck and collapsed on the street and died. Witnesses had said he was armed, but no gun was recovered.
Gay was hit in the head and collapsed in her daughter's arms, police said. Witnesses, including the daughter, told police the gunman had shot in her direction.
Violence surrounding the parade is all too familiar.
In 2003, a gang member fired a gun into the air during a fight between rival groups. College student Anthony Bartholomew, 20, was pushing through the crowds to get a better view of the procession when he was struck and killed.
In 2005, during celebrations the night before the parade, a 23-year-old man died after being shot in the head.
This week's bloodshed was the main topic of conversation among neighborhood residents chatting in Tuesday's light rain.
"A lady sitting on her stoop got killed for nothing," Victor Hernandez said. "That could have been anybody. These guys with these guns, like Bloomberg said, they got to do something about these guns, man."
Hernandez, a cook who's on disability, said he enjoyed the parade but questioned why anyone would take a gun to it.
"What are you going to come here for with a gun to a parade? You're looking for trouble," he said. "We're out here to have a good time, not to have violence."
Charlotte Viola, a waitress, added, "It seems every time a crowd of people get together there's some kind of problem. Always."
Monday's parade capped a particularly bloody holiday weekend in New York and included other outbursts of violence. Gunshots brought the festivities to a stop in spots, scattering the panicked crowd. Police said four people were shot and wounded along the Eastern Parkway parade route and a 15-year-old boy was grazed by a bullet nearby.
Parade organizers didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday on what can be done to lessen the threat of violence at future parades.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said that, despite the violence, ending the parade was unnecessary.
"I don't think it'd be wise to close it down, but it's just unfortunate that there seems to be every year some violence attended to it," he said.
Also at the parade Monday, a City Council member and an aide to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio were briefly detained after getting into a confrontation with police.
No charges were filed. A City Hall spokesman said police were conducting a thorough investigation into the incident.
Before the violence Monday, the parade thundered along Eastern Parkway, one of Brooklyn's main thoroughfares, with its usual colorful, musical energy.
The parade celebrates the culture of the Caribbean islands and is one of the city's largest outdoors events. Modeled on traditional Carnival festivities, it features spicy West Indian food and dancers wearing revealing feathered costumes.
Despite the recent spate of gunplay in the city, shootings are down about 3 percent for the year compared with the same period last year, police said.
Associated Press writers Tom Hays, Verena Dobnik and Karen Zraick contributed to this report.