NYC Sees Mysterious Uptick in Illegal Fireworks; June Complaints Hit 1,700 After 21 Last Year

A sharp divide has opened between residents aggravated by the noise and threatening to call authorities and others who cautioning that could lead to the type of dangerous police action they’ve protested against for weeks

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First, it was the constant wail of ambulance sirens carrying coronavirus victims to the hospital. Then, New Yorkers learned to live with the sounds of police helicopters hovering over street demonstrations.

Now, people in the city that never sleeps have a new audio accompaniment to their surreal spring: Booming, amateur fireworks displays that start at sundown and continue deep into the night.

Illicit bursts of fireworks from street corners and rooftops aren’t uncommon in the city’s neighborhoods in the days before the Fourth of July, but the past few weeks has seen an extraordinary surge in such displays.

There have already been more than 1,700 fireworks-related complaints to the city’s noise complaint hotline through the first half of the month, including 455 on Sunday. Usually, there are just a few dozen such complaints during that time period, with only 21 registered during this time in 2019.

So far this year, the NYPD has seized fireworks 26 times, made eight arrests, issued 22 tickets and even responded to a couple of injuries.

The shows start around sunset, when the bridges begin to light up over the East River. It’s lasting at times long past midnight, too late for those who have to rise early the next morning for work — even it’s from the comfort of their living room with many New Yorkers still working from home.

Fed up, fatigued or just fascinated, they are turning to social media to ask some form of the same question: What’s up with the fireworks?

Where they are coming from is also a mystery.

While the short sparklers that parents let kids twirl until they quickly flame out can be purchased, the kind of fireworks that create the booming blasts in Brooklyn can’t be sold legally in New York.

But people are getting them — a lot of them, from the sound of things.

"Saturday night I recorded it because it was such a huge light outside my window. I have a little dog, and of course he was scared," said Patricia Vasconcellos, a correspondent with a Brazilian network. She said she even witnessed people setting them off.

"There were pointing not towards the sky, but towards the side of the street, and there were children and families, so someone could get hurt. Of course I was scared," she said.

The fireworks fun — or fury — isn’t limited to New York. They can be heard further to the north in Westchester County, and are ringing out more than normal in locations throughout the Northeast. Boston, Baltimore, Hartford, Connecticut and Syracuse, New York are among the cities where residents have noticed a similar phenomenon.

In Brooklyn, a sharp divide has opened between residents aggravated by the noise and threatening to call authorities and others who cautioning that could lead to the type of dangerous police action they’ve just spent weeks protesting against.

An NYPD spokesperson stressed that fireworks are illegal in New York City and urged people to report violations involving them. Brooklyn resident Brittany Sturrett hasn’t done that, though she said the noise is a nuisance.

“They are a block from my house,” she said. “I see them from my window and it freaks out my dog.”

Brooklyn has been the center of some of the nation’s largest demonstrations following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck.

Maybe, some Brooklynites figure, the pyrotechnics are a show of support for the protesters.

"It's really just people doing what they do every summer," said Carah Naseem, who is part of Equality for Flatbush, a local grassroots organization focusing on anti-police repression and anti-gentrification. "It's an issue of white supremacy. It's an issue of people trying to call the police on people who are merely celebrating in their neighborhood."

Longtime neighbors say the fireworks are a form of expression, especially during this time of year and this moment in New York City history, and it's something done for fun.

It's not just in Brooklyn, either. Bronx residents have noticed an uptick as well, and an 18-year-old was hit in the chest with one Tuesday night. In Fordham Heights, tubes of projectiles and exploded fireworks could be seen littered along the street, with some neighbors worried about their safety.

"They need to send cops here to monitor this block, it's really getting out of hand," said a Fordham resident who identified herself as Carmen. "The other day, the smell of those firecrackers was in my wind. Smelling that in my room, it's ridiculous."

Perhaps they’re a way to blow off steam — and plenty of smoke — after being stuck at home all spring because of the coronavirus.

Whatever it is, it’s loud.

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