Brooklyn, New York, USA - Before the current and unwelcome trend of white people calling the “authorities” on Black people was somewhat normalized, Despers USA Steel Orchestra in Brooklyn had their nightly run-ins in 2017 and 2018 with their own “Karen” in the person of Kathleen Reilly. At the time, she was dubbed a “hostile colonizer.” The steel orchestra had called, and still does, that area “home” for almost forty years - very long before the arrival of Kathleen Reilly, at the time just eight years prior.
But for more than two years, she would stalk Despers USA, for hours standing right outside the panyard during rehearsals for the annual Panorama competition, take pictures and video, and routinely called the NYPD (New York Police Department), the FDNY (Fire Department of New York), and any agency she could get to come out and attempt to shut Despers USA Steel Orchestra down, stop practice, etc. Kathleen Reilly explicitly told the publication Gothamist what she was about, quote: “She explained at that time that she was on a mission to curtail rehearsals for Despers USA. “It sounds like the same song. It’s extremely loud, and it’s not what I want to sit in my house and listen to.”” She was in fact arrested back in 2017 for engaging in the same type of harassment of the band, but released later without charges.
With all 2020 Carnival-related activities in New York cancelled in their customary format because of COVID-19, there are no panyards open for rehearsal, with Panorama not taking place this year. With Kathleen Reilly’s type of behavior seen around the country, one could only imagine what Despers USA would have encountered with her, for 2020, especially in this week running up to what would have been the Panorama competition on Saturday as part of the pre-Labor Day Carnival festivities.
Today, Kathleen Reilly would be right in step with the other “Karens” around the USA. But back then, she was a portent of what the “climate” is like presently in this country.
So now - we are looking back.... at just one piece - that was originally published in August 2018, accompanied by video captured by Monk Kerntè, one of the veteran musicians of Despers USA Steel Orchestra.
“With only a couple of days to go before New York 2018 Panorama, New York authorities have allowed the colonizer to terrorize the young people of Despers USA with impunity for the Summer. It’s time for the mayor and authorities to step in and stop empowering this behavior. What is the city waiting for to take action - a New York version of the George Zimmerman?” August 30, 2018
*** Despers USA Steel Orchestra would go on to win the 2018 New York Panorama competition.
Kathleen Reilly - Steelband “Karen” - outside Despers USA’s panyard on Dean Street, capturing video