The fake fireworks crisis

The surge in complaints proves Americans haven't learned a thing

(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

Another week, another crisis. I don't know about you, but between impeachment and lockdown and economic depression and nationwide protests and surges in violent crime, alcoholism, suicide, and child abuse, I'm not sure if we are prepared to handle the terrifying prospect of children playing with Roman candles.

According to city statistics, complaints about fireworks are up 700 percent this year in Chicago. New York has also seen a roughly twelvefold increase in the number of fireworks-related calls. Thank goodness residents of the latter city have such a stalwart mayor in Bill de Blasio, who recently announced the creation of a task force meant to address the new pyrotechnic crime wave (as opposed to the rise in murders, shootings, and burglaries). "There's a lot to do," he said, "and we have to do it quickly."

Right. Apart from the (to me, welcome) news that American firework manufacturers are having a great year for sales, I am not sure what really needs to be said here. A CNN correspondent recently opined: "Why the fireworks are going off so frequently is anyone's guess." Is it, though? It seems pretty straightforward to me that after spending a quarter of a year out of school and (needlessly) locked up indoors, kids are letting off steam both figuratively and literally with bottle rockets, smoke bombs, ground spinners, poppers, snappers, sparklers, snakes, and goodness knows what else.

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Only a joyless scold could object to this sort of thing. It's not like our major cities were quiet places to begin with. Which is why I find it baffling that fireworks are suddenly becoming the object not only of complaints but of conspiracy theories. This is especially true after what this country has gone through in the month following the killing of George Floyd.

I believe people who have been telling us from day one that they wanted Trump to send in the tanks or whatever and are now adding fireworks to their list of grievances. I can also understand the anarchists' let 'er rip position when it comes to everything from statues to the territorial integrity of the American republic to cherry bombs in parks. It is the woke anti-fun types I have trouble understanding, people who have at least tacitly defended violent protests and the destruction of monuments who suddenly have a problem with a little bit of noise after dark.

How can anyone seriously maintain that tens of millions of dollars in property damage was a less serious concern than a few kids having loud fun outside? There is simply no way to reconcile these views. If you think we need local government task forces to "crack down" on fireworks, you do not understand the problem with modern policing, or the so-called "broken windows" theory that underpins much of it. Nor do you have the moral authority to opine about the seriousness of crimes against property. You have already told us your answer: not in my backyard.

This brings us to the other problem with the recent fireworks agony: the disparity in how people respond to it based upon race. When I talk about my childhood in rural Michigan, the responses to stories about eight-year-olds spending the Fourth of July trying to imitate Bill Murray in Caddyshack by putting smoke bombs inside what we imagined were gopher holes generally involve laughter. Those were the good old days, one hears, when kids could be kids, and we weren't so politically correct and safety obsessed and [insert your anti-woke catchphrase of choice here].

All of this is undoubtedly true. But for some reason when Black teenagers get up to exactly the same thing the response is not wistfulness but fear and contempt. Words like "war zone" and "thug" are bandied about. This is absurd. It is also totally in keeping with how non-white children are made to feel when they do anything from run a paper route to buy ice cream at the corner store.

If we have learned anything from the past month it is this reality is not acceptable.

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Matthew Walther

Matthew Walther is a national correspondent at The Week. His work has also appeared in First Things, The Spectator of London, The Catholic Herald, National Review, and other publications. He is currently writing a biography of the Rev. Montague Summers. He is also a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow.