Across the US, residents have for weeks reported an unusual increase in both the quantity and quality of fireworks being shot off in their neighborhoods. Not only are the fireworks being shot off late into the night, but they appear to be mostly professional-grade fireworks of the kind used in public shows, not the cheap backyard firecrackers purchasable at your local roadside stand.
Record Reports Nationwide
In New York in the first half of June, the city received 1,737 fireworks complaints - 82 times as many as normal, the New York Times reported on June 19. In the same period in 2019, the city received just 21 complaints. By June 23, that number had increased to more than 12,500 calls, or 12 times the number received in the first half of 2019.
“These are not your normal kids playing with fireworks,” Manhattan piano teacher Michael Ford told the Times. “These are real explosives, like Macy’s-style fireworks.”
"This is a serious issue,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told reporters on June 10. "People are frightened. People are losing sleep. Babies and kids are woken up. Pets are terrified. Our veterans and others with PTSD are experiencing real harm, and it's a real fire hazard in our city."
In response, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday he had formed a special task force that includes zero police officers, 12 fire marshals and 20 investigators from the city sheriff’s office.
Videos have flooded social media showing the late-night pyrotechnics.
While some of the increase in fireworks is understandable - the upcoming Fourth of July and the recent nationwide celebrations of Juneteenth on Friday could both be partially to blame - the sheer volume has many scratching their heads for firmer answers.
‘Meant to Sound Like a War Zone’
Author Robert Jones Jr., who goes by the name “Son of Baldwin” on social media, floated the idea that the fireworks were either being fired off by police or being distributed to youth by the police, who then encouraged kids to fire them off, with the goal of mass sleep deprivation of Black and Brown communities in rebellion, as well as desensitization to the sound of explosives in the neighborhood so that “when they start using their real artillery on us we won't know the difference.”
“It's meant to sound like a war zone because a war zone is what it's about to become,” he said.
די פייערווארקס אין ניו יארק איז ארויס פין קאנטראל, דעיס איז פין יעצא ביינאכט אין קראון הייטס pic.twitter.com/WbQG4LChnE— Hasidic2 (@hasidic_1) June 21, 2020
“The media is reporting this as though it's just Black and Brown kids blowing off steam, but I don't believe that's the case. My neighbors and I believe that this is part of a coordinated attack on Black and Brown communities by government forces; an attack meant to disorient and destabilize the #BlackLivesMatter movement,” he wrote in a Facebook post on June 20. “We think this is psychological warfare, the first wave before whatever the next stage of the attack is.”
Jones dismissed those who would blame the increase on the protesters themselves, who have been spotted in many instances firing fireworks into police lines, saying people would not treat their own communities in such a disrespectful way.
“We think this because there is NO WAY IN THE WORLD that young Black and Brown people would otherwise have access to these PROFESSIONAL fireworks. Fam, these are Macy's July 4th/New Year's-level displays and sonic booms reserved generally for the wealthiest people and institutions,” Jones added.
“And these kids are being supplied these things by the TRUCKLOAD. Hours and hours and days and days and weeks and weeks worth of explosives, y'all. No young Black and Brown people would be able to afford even a FRACTION of this supply. (Some folks have said that they saw boxes of high-grade fireworks left in Black and Brown neighborhoods, which reminds me of the government's role in the crack epidemic).”
Footage captured by residents seems to lend some degree of support to Jones’ theory. In one video that appears to have been filmed in New York, police and fire department crews stand aside while several people standing in the street fire off large fireworks in the middle of the night.
Police and fire PROTECTING the people lighting fireworks!— Mendel Blizinsky (@BlizM9) June 21, 2020
This is NOT NORMAL! pic.twitter.com/dXnC7M5jeb
In another video filmed at 3 a.m. local time in West Harlem on June 22, more than a dozen New York Police Department cruisers and vans are seen driving back and forth with their sirens and lights blazing.
In addition, New York Fire Department firefighters were also caught red-handed on the night of June 16 firing off fireworks at about 11:30 p.m. local time in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, according to the New York Post.
Other circumstantial evidence showing seeming police disinterest in the fireworks is prolific on social media, although not firm evidence of anything by itself.
Walked around the block to figure out who's responsible for these nightly fireworks.— Anne-Marcelle N. (@AnneMarcelleN) June 21, 2020
Come to find out they're coming from the building directly behind the NYPD precinct. Officers outside seemed completely unbothered by it all. pic.twitter.com/Tx84alTwHZ
‘Pent-Up Energy’ Driving Record Sales
Some of the spike might also be due to record fireworks sales. The American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) fireworks trade group “predicts an all-time high in backyard consumer fireworks sales and use,” APA Executive Director Julie Heckman said on Monday.
Backyard firework use is expected to hit an all-time high this Fourth of July, according to the APA.
Phantom Fireworks Vice President Bill Weimer told CNN on Tuesday that in his 30 years in the business, 2020 is the first season that’s “knocked [him] over.” Weimer suggested the surge was due to “a combination of people getting out, being anxious and having this pent-up energy, and then right around the corner is a quintessential firework holiday.”