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So, what’s up with all of the fireworks this month?

Almost every night during this unprecedented June, cities across the country have been disrupted by the use of illegal fireworks. Complaints about these loud light displays have been record-breaking, with all 5 boroughs of New York City receiving 80 times as many complaints in the first half of June this year than in the same period last year. Cities such as Boston, MA, Oakland, CA, and Baltimore, MD are having similar experiences.

People are saying that not only are the fireworks keeping them up at night, but that there have even been countless injuries and issues related to enforcement as a result of the increase in use of the illegal explosive devices. So, I wonder, why is all of this happening?

In New York City, fireworks dance across the sky from the early hours of the evening well into the night, sometimes ending at 1 or 2 AM. Many people believe that the use of fireworks is an activity that youth have taken up because of the many months they spent in quarantine. They mention that it might be a way to relieve stress and have some fun. Others cite the Black Lives Matter movement as a motive for using fireworks –  to celebrate all that the movement has accomplished thus far. I’m not convinced. 

It is important to note that while fireworks are illegal to buy, sell, and ignite, this definitely has not stopped the distribution of the devices in the past. That said, however, it remains concerning that folks have been able to get their hands on high-grade professional explosives like the ones used in parades and not just the standard consumer fireworks which we would normally see. And, although the use of illegal fireworks in the summer months is not uncommon, the timing and substantial amount of explosive devices out in the streets every single day this month has definitely been questionable.

Fireworks are typically used closer to the 4th of July in celebration of Independence Day in America. But, as previously mentioned, this year we have seen a wide use of fireworks for the entirety of the month of June and seems to be very closely aligned with both the canceling of major parades all summer long and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

This makes me question, again, how people could even get their hands on them, and, more importantly, what is their motive? 

Well, there are some theories circulating around the internet that law enforcement and the government may have more to do with this than meets the eye. The use of these explosives has been disproportionately affecting low-income communities of color all over the city. Not to mention that some people are beginning to question how Black and brown kids are even able to afford these professional explosives for days and weeks on end. It simply wouldn’t be possible to sustain the nightly use of them if they were being sold to them at a regular price.

In addition, some folks add that this might even be a psychological warfare tactic used by the police to disrupt Black neighborhoods and communities. By providing citizens with easily accessible explosives and ensuring that they use them every night, they could be effectively disrupting sleeping patterns and trying to exhaust these communities in the hopes that protests will tire out or eventually come to a halt. There are even videos of police cars circling the streets in low-income communities during the early morning hours while sounding sirens with no clear motive – seemingly trying to create a disturbance.

In a time of political uproar, it could be their way of trying to stop the people from going out into the streets and demanding justice

Some folks even believe that these fireworks are being sold to youth by undercover cops just so that they can punish them later on for the possession of these illegal materials. In New York City, there have been numerous arrests, summonses, and tickets being handed out over fireworks complaints. With the current political climate and a reasonable distrust of police officers, many people are worried that this could lead to law enforcement taking advantage of people who are in possession of fireworks.

Or worse, other people worry that this could lead to even more violence.

Regardless, whether it is the government and police working against the people, or whether it is commercially driven due to the uncertain future of parades and large events, New Yorkers have very mixed opinions about the constant use of fireworks. Some folks do enjoy them and acknowledge that it is a way for people to bond with their community now that they are spending more time outside. 

However, other New Yorkers were so fed up with the nightly performances that they took it upon themselves to protest at Gracie Mansion, the home of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Hundreds of people drove by the mansion in the middle of the night and honked their horns to make noise and wake up the Mayor. They demanded he gets a taste of what their communities sound like in the middle of the night. 

Their protests worked, supposedly. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he will be creating an illegal fireworks task force to disrupt the increased use and possession of such materials. I’m not convinced, though, that the answer to even more frequent demands for police reform is an additional task force that will certainly be centered in low income Black and brown neighborhoods. Especially since we are not certain of the source of the firework displays in the first place. On the surface, this action seems like just another way for those in power to maintain control, complicity, and their beloved “status quo.” 

Undoubtedly the increased use of illegal fireworks around New York City has been questionable and out of the ordinary during these times. As we gear up for the 4th of July weekend, it is very unlikely that they will stop. In fact, I suspect that usage will continue to increase. But, there is no question that we the people need to monitor this situation closely and hope for a quick solution given that it disproportionately affects Black and brown communities.

By Sharon Quituisaca

Sharon Quituisaca is a public service leader, change-maker, intersectional feminist, and social justice warrior with degrees in Sociology and Policy Studies. As a first-generation Latina from the Bronx, NY, she is committed to advocating for womxn, inner-city youth, and the environment, while inspiring younger generations through mentorship.