“These are high-grade pyrotechnics, not sprinklers sold in Walmart,” said Harlem resident Jeremiah Drake. “They can kill someone.”
With this still being the days of COVID-19, and it being Gun Violence Awareness Month, the 42% uptick in shootings would ordinarily be the headline news; but the fear and concern leading to thousands of phone calls to 911 this weekend is about fireworks, not gunshots.
This month there have been more than 13,000 complaints about these illegal fireworks compared to a total of 32 complaints this time last year.
In response to annoyed Gotham residents, the elected have demanded action. The mayor has set up a taskforce.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Council Member Robert Cornegy and members of Brooklyn Community Board 3 are demanding the city cough up the funds to crack down on this all night firing off of illegal fireworks around Brooklyn. According to Adams’ office, published reports cited 311 complaints “about illegal fireworks have surged in recent weeks, with 1,737 recorded in the first half of June––more than 80 times the amount in the same time period last year. Over the past two months, 311 logged 4,862 complaints of fireworks throughout the city.” Apparently, Brooklyn has led the five boroughs in the number of complaints that came in to 311, with 2,233.
Complaints have been concentrated in areas of Central Brooklyn, such as Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Flatbush.
Adams and Cornegy have called on the City to deploy the tried and tested Cure Violence groups with boots on the ground to look into the fireworks complaints, while having law enforcement groups “track the source of the fireworks and how they’re flowing into the city.”
“Over the past few weeks New York City and other communities have been subjected to jarring, disruptive and dangerous fireworks,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams told the AmNews. “I made clear law enforcement actions should be directed toward the higher up distributors, cutting off the supply. To that end, I’m glad the administration seems to be focusing there. It’s also encouraging to see a non-law enforcement agency engaged like the FDNY. One missing piece is the City’s engagement of local clergy and local community-based organizations who work closely with the community and can be the ones to interact with lower level usage on the ground. This kind of model is critical to get right as we move into the summer. I await to see how the mayor’s announcement plays out in practice.”
”The uptick in fireworks complaints throughout Brooklyn are disturbing to me, which is why I called for the City to invest in credible messengers like anti-violence groups to meet people where they are, speak to them in a language that they understand to discourage the use of fireworks through communication, rather than taking a punitive approach,” Adams said. “These messengers could also have a dual role in addressing the recent rise in gun violence. Law enforcement’s role is to find where these incendiary devices are coming from, which remains an open question. But just as we’re reevaluating the proper role of law enforcement in responding to certain illegal acts, we need to re-envision our frontline response.”
All night, every night people in the city have had their peace disturbed by the continuous racket of fireworks sounding like live and direct gunshots.
In the midst of the confusion, shootings are on the rise according to the NYPD.
Why? Who? What? Are the questions being asked.
“Whenever America catches a cold, Black America is fighting the flu,” Andre Mitchell, founder and CEO of Man Up Inc. told the Amsterdam News. “Unfortunately whenever it starts to heat up in this city those of us that work to reduce shootings and killings brace ourselves for upticks in violence. The summer months are historically our busiest time of the year. Most of our work throughout the year is to hope for a summer of peace. That’s why we were the founders of the month of June being called Gun Violence Awareness Month. A national campaign embraced by hundreds of gun violence prevention groups and tens of thousands of people. The uptick in shootings this year citywide is also connected to the coronavirus pandemic and the worldwide call for social justice against killer cops. Make no mistakes these three killer viruses are all interconnected. The brave men and women of the Crisis Management System and the Cure Violence Global model, who work in troubled areas without guns and badges, are beefing up our workforce in all of the 5 boroughs in different capacities. We are working around the clock mediating and interrupting potential violent conflicts. Even as this administration has made recent efforts to support our anti-violence movement, we are still far short of what’s actually needed.”
To add to the frustration and sleepless nights is the outrage as caught on video in the act is a youth tossing lit fireworks at a sleeping homeless man who was burned and hospitalized.
Massive amounts of fireworks suddenly in the city, another question being asked is; is it a deliberate or organized action to instill fear and disruption? Speculating that someone is dumping huge amounts of fireworks in Harlem, artist and vet Jeremiah Drake stated, “Outsiders with an agenda. People intentionally dropping truckloads (from what I hear) of relatively high grade fireworks.”
Drake, a paratrooper vet from the 82nd Airborne Division declared: “These are not firecrackers. They can easily maim or kill someone…every night here in Harlem it sounds like a warzone.”
Drake, who is with the Theatre of the Oppressed, told the Amsterdam News, “The fireworks are coming from Pennsylvania and upstate. My wife said that you can buy them in Walmart in Rochester.
“Firework manufacturers and suppliers are trying to get rid of their stock because we have been in our homes because of the COVID, and so many events like the Macy’s Day Parade and July 4th celebrations, as we know it, weddings, and shows have been cancelled,” he continued. “Usually there are fireworks displays all year long. Manufacturers and sellers want to make a profit, or at least they don’t want to lose their shirt, so maybe they are selling them for a song. Or maybe they are dumping them into the community.”
Some folks stated that it may be a move to create a distraction or to halt the protests.
Drake said perhaps, “It may be a part of the Black Lives Matter protests to disturb the white privilege. Most of the people calling 911 are the gentrifiers who come to the community, but are not of the community. They belong to support groups on Facebook that help give them the courage to call police. They take action against people they consider a nuisance, like if they are playing cards, or dominos, or hanging out on their stoops. So, perhaps, some people are looking at an opportunity to upset the peace of the newcomers.”
Those handling these prohibited fireworks have also suffered injuries; a Bronx teenager “was hospitalized in stable condition after a firework hit him in the chest. In Crown Heights a 33-year-old man was hospitalized in critical condition this past week after he set off a firework that ricocheted off a window and hit him.”
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea noted that, “For any number of reasons, the use of illegal firework has skyrocketed this year and that has damaged the quality of life in our neighborhoods.” His police department, he assured, will “work closely with our city partners to address this dangerous issue.”
“Illegal fireworks aren’t just nuisances; they’re dangerous. We need solutions that don’t just think outside the box, they destroy the box: engaging community groups to meet people where they are and speak their language,” said Adams. ”As we re-evaluate the role of law enforcement in upholding quality of life concerns, we must re-envision our frontline response to these kinds of nonviolent acts, using Cure Violence groups and fraternal organizations such as the Vulcan Society and the Guardians Association to communicate with people about the dangers of fireworks.”
“We have the benefit of guidance from Cure Violence and violence interrupter models that prioritize community education and community engagement,” said Cornegy. “These times demand that we stop disproportionately leaning on policing and law enforcement. Instead, we must conscientiously pursue alternatives.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he plans to create a multi-agency task force––of NYPD, FDNY and sheriffs––to crack down on the fireworks dilemma by identifying and halting the supply line. He said, “Illegal fireworks are both dangerous and a public nuisance. We’re cracking down on this activity at the source to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers.”
Law enforcers in civilian clothes will conduct undercover buys and stings in order to investigate the source and those involved in the supply line statewide and beyond. The FDNY will engage the public in a public safety campaign.