Fireworks: Why are cities erupting?

LIST: Fourth of July fireworks celebrations in the Ozarks ...

From The Week

A nationwide fireworks spree is making “some people suspicious,” said Maura Judkis at The Washington Post. In cities large and small, the streets are inexplicably erupting into “festive artillery shelling,” beginning at dusk and continuing into the early morning. The impromptu explosions are rattling windows, keeping people up, and “scaring the bejesus out of every dog in the neighborhood.” In Boston, cops reported more than 7,800 fireworks complaints from June 1 to June 23, “up from 139 over the same period last year.” In Denver, the number of calls is 10 times greater than usual; in tiny Dubuque, Iowa, five times. The mystery has spawned a conspiracy theory on Twitter that cops are intentionally setting off the fireworks, or giving them out in minority neighborhoods to disorient the populace and derail the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. In one version, cops are desensitizing African-Americans to loud explosions so they won’t realize it “when they start using their real artillery on us,” as author Robert Jones Jr. tweeted.

More likely, any one of a number of “everyday factors are at work,” said Matthew Yglesias at Vox. Teens and young people who have been cooped up for months are blowing off steam with colorful explosions. There’s plenty of inventory, thanks to the cancellation of July 4 fireworks shows. Cops are stretched thin by protests and possibly less likely to ticket. In the pandemic, people are home and cities are quieter, making the racket more noticeable. It’s no surprise that people are seeking the sinister in the “nightly booms, bangs, and fizzles,” said Mihir Zaveri at The New York Times. This is, after all, a time of “deep distrust of law enforcement.” The evidence, however, suggests an innocuous explanation: “People are bored and setting off fireworks for fun — and seeing fireworks just makes fireworks enthusiasts want to set off more fireworks.”

There’s something “bittersweet” about fireworks assuming such a “surreal significance” in the time of Covid, said Kaitlyn Tiffany at The Atlantic. The booms and bright glare evoke “less fraught summers” when we sat on lawn blankets and watched the show. At the same time, the nightly bombardment is “unrelenting, and unusual,” and speaks to the craziness of the moment. Crafting a conspiracy theory about the noise and light is just one “way of trying to hold the world still and make sense of it” — at a time when very little makes sense.

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