Seriously, WTF Is Up With All These Fireworks?
Is the government using pyrotechnics to disturb communities in the wake of nationwide protests or are we just bored? Several theories have emerged as nightly fireworks rage on.
Loud bursts of fireworks have sounded off night after night from New York to California—a trend that has been sweeping the country in the last month, prompting sleepless nights and conspiracy theories.
Confused residents in several cities have reported fireworks every single night since the beginning of June, scaring dogs and triggering car alarms. The loud booms start as soon as the sun sets and sometimes go into the early hours of the morning, despite the Fourth of July still being more than a week away.
While theories about government involvement in the nightly displays are floating around, others have chalked it up to boredom from the months of being stuck inside.
Are There More Fireworks Than Usual?
In New York CIty, Gothamist reported that people made 8,477 complaints about fireworks citywide from June 1 to 20 to a non-emergency number 311. Only 27 complaints were made in the same time frame last year.
In Boston, police reported more than 1,400 complaints in the first week of June, compared to 22 complaints from the same time last year. In Chicago, firework complaints skyrocketed by 736% compared to 2019, according to The Chicago Sun Times. The spike in firework use has been reported in Ohio, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C., among others.
Videos of firework displays at all hours of the night have filled social media timelines, and several people have asked: why the sudden increase?
It’s bizarre because usually fireworks don’t happen in LA because of drought and also not this far in advance of the 4th. Normally it’s just the week before.— roxane gay (@rgay) June 22, 2020
@deray @SonofBaldwin @_pem_pem Major uptick in fireworks near Lake Merritt in Oakland since Memorial Day. Non-stop from 8 pm to 2 am on Friday (see video). Same on Saturday. It's 10 pm on Sunday and they're going off right now. Much better and louder than ordinary consumer stuff. pic.twitter.com/XHhaa93Dzg— Dave Seropian (@daveseropian) June 22, 2020
The Conspiracy Theory
With the unexplained phenomena of pyrotechnics at night, curious observers have developed unproven theories after they noticed that the loud displays started around the same time as the nationwide protests.
Author Robert Jones, Jr. theorized that the fireworks are part of a “coordinated attack on Black and Brown communities by government forces; an attack meant to disorient and destabilize the #BlackLivesMatter movement” in a Twitter thread that garnered thousands of interactions.
Jones also tweeted that there was no way “that young Black and Brown people would otherwise have access to these PROFESSIONAL fireworks,” likening the intense fireworks to Macy’s Fourth of July or New Year's Eve shows. Jones also cites a New York Post article that showed FDNY firefighters lighting up illegal fireworks in Brooklyn.
Other Twitter users are coming to a similar conclusion or making other observations, including a video of police circling the streets of Harlem at 3 a.m.:
Not trying to buy into or promote the conspiracy theory but all night long I hear fireworks and every morning I run my neighborhood block by block and there’s no fireworks debris. I don’t get it?— Laura Jane Grace (@LauraJaneGrace) June 22, 2020
Other Explanations For The Fireworks
One story out of West Virginia reported that retailers in the area are selling more elaborate fireworks to individuals since larger shows were cancelled this year due to the pandemic.
Other people have simpler explanations as to why they think the fireworks are going off:
my very simple fireworks theory is that at a time of growing belief in the illegitimacy of police, people dont feel inclined to follow city ordinances they may have previously respected— David Covucci (@DavidCovucci) June 22, 2020
A friend sent a very believable theory: That we’re hearing more of them because retailers are getting rid of them, as there won’t be any shows this year.— Meredith D. Clark, Ph.D. #TenureTrackHustle (@meredithdclark) June 22, 2020
My new theory on The Great Fireworks Mystery of 2020: the mass cancellation of Fourth of July celebrations has flooded the black market with professional grade fireworks normally inaccessible to most of us— Armand Domalewski (@ArmandDoma) June 22, 2020
A photographer and director in New York City, who said in a video has worked with large-scale fireworks for many years, said that some of the fireworks going off are very expensive, and he suspected that retailers were selling them illegally. Though executive director of the American Pyrotechnic Association Julie Heckman said during a roundtable discussion on June 3 that an uptick in fireworks sales was to be expected.
The co-owner of Sky King Fireworks in Pennsylvania told BuzzFeed News that people have been driving from neighboring states to buy hundreds of dollars of fireworks. He also suggested that people just want to get out of the house.
“No matter who you talked to, no one could have predicted this, the uptick in sales,” Joe VanOudenhove III of Sky King Fireworks told BuzzFeed. “We were just trying to figure it out.”
According to a report in Scientific American, states have lifted the strict bans on firework sales and usage. 15 states have lightened their firework laws since 2000, another contributing factor to the rise of fireworks.
In Brooklyn, a long-time resident told reporter Ryan Devereaux that it’s widely known that fireworks are cheap in neighboring states. The resident also said young people in the area have made a game out of the fireworks displays, competing with each other.
Some of the fireworks are being set off by competing groups of young people from different blocks and areas — there are battles. In addition to fireworks, young people are also attacking their rivals with squirt guns. It’s summertime in Brooklyn. People are trying to have fun.— Ryan Devereaux (@rdevro) June 23, 2020
More than 16,000 firework shows typically occur on the Fourth of July nationwide, according to the APA. With COVID-19 forcing organizations to cancel major events, the professional display of Independence Day fireworks will be few and far between.
Macy’s in New York City announced this week that its usual Fourth of July show would be changed to short surprise shows over the course of several days in order to prevent crowds from gathering.
“From Monday, June 29 through Saturday, July 4, Macy’s Fireworks displays will launch unannounced on select evenings across New York City,” the announcement read. “Each show is brief and will be over before residents can gather at its source. The displays will be launched from one or two land or water based locations over the course of the week-long celebration covering every borough of New York City.”
While the current flood of fireworks by individuals could be a result of the lack of professional displays, another theory is that people are noticing the fireworks because of being stuck at home. Coronavirus-related restrictions have caused typically loud cities to quiet down over the last few months, which could make the booming fireworks more noticeable.
Police Involvement in Fireworks
While tensions between police and communities mount across the country amid weeks of protests against police brutality and systemic racism, the involvement of law enforcement in the fireworks mystery has come into question.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that the city “established a multi-agency task force to crack down on illegal fireworks sales.” The mayor said complaints have skyrocketed, and as a result, the NYPD, FDNY Fire Marshals and Sheriff's Office will be taking action.
In Pasadena, Chief John Perez of the Pasadena Police Department told local outlets that officers are balancing their approach to policing and “ensuring we're not running around making arrests of young children for fireworks.” Instead, Perez said the responsibility will be on the parents.
Mayor de Blasio echoed a similar approach in his announcement, saying the task force will focus on “the root cause” and larger supplier operations that officials suspect are taking place.
While some critics have questioned the merit of additional police involvement during a time of unrest and widespread mistrust in law enforcement, firework task forces are not uncommon. Several cities and towns have created special units to crack down on illegal firework usage over the years.
While theories continue to circulate, there’s currently no concrete conclusion about the nightly phenomenon. While the loud noises can be a nuisance to the average person, pet owners, and people who live with PTSD or other sensory conditions stand to have a more difficult experience with the fireworks. But with the upcoming celebrations that surround the Fourth of July, it’s safe to assume that the fireworks will continue.