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New Yorkers hope for calmer West Indian Day Parade

A woman dances down Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn

A woman dances down Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn as she takes part in the West Indian Day Parade. (Sept. 5, 2011) Credit: AP

A year after incidents with police marred Brooklyn's annual West Indian American Parade, lawmakers and spectators said they hoped for a calmer event Monday without losing the vibrancy that is part of the festival's appeal.

"Celebrating the Caribbean culture is very important," said City Councilman Jumaane Williams, 36, whose family is from Grenada. "I'm hoping there is less excitement than last year," when he was arrested over entering a barricaded zone.

The parade, in its 45th year, attracts more than a million people and dozens of bands to Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights each year. Feathered carnival costumes, thumping sounds of steel drums and nonstop dancing make it one of the city's premier cultural events.

Robert Richards, 60, travels from his home in Lindenhurst every Labor Day to honor his Antigua heritage. "Everyone West Indian comes here," he said.

"It's a beautiful expression of art," said Dulani Howell, 31, of Crown Heights.

But the parade also has a reputation for attracting violence, which organizers call unfair.

Last year, two people were killed, including a 56-year-old woman sitting on her porch, and two officers were wounded in a shooting blocks from the parade route.

There were fatal shootings along the route in 2003 and at a pre-parade party in 2005.

The arrest last year of Williams and Kirsten John Foy, a community affairs director for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, sparked complaints from other elected officials.

The men, who weren't charged, argued they were treated badly because they are black, despite having shown their official credentials to enter the area. Three police officers were disciplined after an internal NYPD investigation determined the officials had permission to be there and excessive force was used on Foy.

Months later, officials learned that some officers had posted racist remarks on Facebook referring to the parade revelers. About 20 officers were disciplined. Williams said he hopes that response leads to more sensitivity by police this year.

The NYPD did not return a request for comment on their preparations.

Despite controversies, the parade attracts officials including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The Empire State Development Corp. has estimated the parade brings in $300 million a year.

Organizers this year will honor Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, which are celebrating 50 years of independence from Great Britain.

"It's a day when we get to thank the Caribbean community and all they've done to make this a rich vibrant place," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, this year's co-grand marshal along with singer Harry Belafonte and Machel Montano, a soca singer from Trinidad and Tobago.

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