What’s up with the fireworks? Noise complaints skyrocket across US, officials say

If it seems like there’s been more fireworks activity than usual as Fourth of July approaches, you’re not alone — and you’re not imagining things.

From New York — where backyard fireworks are illegal statewide — to California, which has strict fireworks laws of its own, people in cities across the U.S. are reporting more nightly ka-booms than usual.

On June 21 alone, New York City police received 2,798 complaints about illegal fireworks activity, up from 2,092 the day before and 1,689 the day before that, Gothamist reported. In fact, fireworks complaints from June 1 to 21 were 426 times higher than the same period last year, according to the outlet.

It’s a similar story in Boston.

Fireworks are illegal in Massachusetts, and it’s illegal to purchase them in another state and bring them back, according to officials.

That hasn’t stopped some people from setting them off. Complaints in Boston have increased 2,300%, the Boston Herald reported, with police receiving 1,445 calls about fireworks in the first week of June, according to the newspaper.

City officials are begging those responsible to cut it out.

“People are frightened,” Mayor Martin Walsh said at Boston City Hall earlier this month, the Herald reported. “People are losing sleep. Babies and kids are woken up. Pets are terrified. Our veterans and others with PTSD are experiencing real harm.”

Officials in Oakland, California, said the fireworks pick up about the same time every night, KGO reported.

“Right now we have this kind of hands-off attitude,” City Councilman Noel Gallo told the outlet. “It’s almost like at 9 p.m., it’s everybody’s time to hang loose and start shooting. They shoot up, not only fireworks. There’s activity sounds like bombs going off. And they last all throughout until 2 in the morning.”

In Pasadena, officials have reported a 400% increase in calls, KABC reported.

Elsewhere, the problem is more than just noise. In San Bernardino, California, a man’s car was destroyed by fireworks, KABC reported. The city said they’re getting six times more calls about fireworks than this time last year, according to the outlet.

Police in New York City are offering a $2,500 reward after a person was caught on video shooting a firework at a man who is homeless, WCBS reported.

Many are taking to social media to share their frustration.

So what’s the deal?

In keeping with the rest of 2020, it’s complicated.

Conspiracy theories have emerged online.

Twitter user @SonofBaldwin proposed that people in his community believe the fireworks are a government effort to interrupt the Black Lives Matter movement.

“My neighbors and I believe that this is part of a coordinated attack on Black and Brown communities by government forces; an attack meant to disorient and destabilize the #BlackLivesMatter movement,” he wrote.

The tweet has amassed nearly 10,000 likes and more than 3,000 retweets as of Wednesday.

On Instagram, users posted their theories to #FireworksTruth with explanations ranging from the banal to the extreme. Some hypothesize it’s just people curing their boredom. Some suggest it’s protesters distracting police. Others say it could be police themselves.

While Buzzfeed reports that there’s no evidence to support suggestions that the fireworks activity is politically motivated, video did emerge of what appears to be firefighters setting off fireworks at a station in Brooklyn, New York, the New York Post reported. It’s now under investigation by FDNY, according to the outlet.

Others have tamer explanations. Some say there aren’t more fireworks at all, but rather that lower background noise in cities due to coronavirus lockdowns mean people can hear fireworks more clearly, the Guardian reported.

Others suggest that there are more professional-grade fireworks being sold off after public displays were canceled due to the pandemic, according to the outlet.

Firework store owners have also reported major increases in sales.

Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory researcher and debunker, said the more extreme fireworks conspiracy theories are no different than any others.

“The ‘fireworks conspiracy theory’ appears to be nothing more than what almost every other conspiracy is: an attempt to find a better explanation than the explanation we’re being given,” he wrote on his website.

What cities are doing

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that New York City is launching a special task force of 10 police officers, 12 fire marshals and 20 investigators to target the illegal fireworks activity, CNN reported.

“We’re going to start a huge sting operation to go and get these illegal fireworks at the base,” de Blasio said at his daily briefing, according to the outlet. “Meaning everywhere they’re being sold around New York City, and even where they’re being sold in surrounding states that we know are flowing into New York City.”

He said the task force will focus on fireworks suppliers with stings and undercover operations, according to CNN.

Several people have already been arrested, including two men in Staten Island who were allegedly found with $6,000 worth of fireworks in their car, WABC reported.

Both men face reckless endangerment charges along with unlawful dealing of fireworks, according to the outlet.

Two more people were arrested after police said they trafficked more than $2,000 worth of fireworks from Pennsylvania, WABC reported.

Officials in Syracuse, New York, are also assigning police units to “aggressively” investigate fireworks complaints in the city, WSYR reported.

In Pasadena, officials are cracking down, as well, according to KABC.

“We are going to cite people and we are going to make sure that they’re aware that there are consequences to their behavior,” Bryan Frieders, the interim chief for the Pasadena Fire Department, told the outlet.