Hot Time Summer in the City

At 4 AM on June 23, one young man took a video as another lit the firecracker that, a moment later, he threw at the man sleeping by the corner of the building. The video, released yesterday, shows the man being engulfed in the explosion. (Credit The NY Daily News Yossi Gestetner. )

New York City is under siege.

Every day from late afternoon overnight until early light of morning, fireworks perseverate. There is a ruckus on the street that blankets my apartment in a surround-sound track reminiscent of a badly-balanced war film’s. Small pops of firecrackers, like rounds of pistol fire, precede reverberating blasts from full-fledged explosives, cherry bombs and bottle rockets, whose lights flash on my windows at the edges of the drawn curtains.

That the pyrotechnic products and practices are illegal is indisputable. Yet there is little to no effort by the city to quell them. In fact, Mayor de Blasio seems complicit. As though the fireworks were just another inconvenience that the privileged folks of the city must endure.

The nightly blasts are far more insidious than irksome. Everyone in the community suffers. Even for those of us lucky enough to have air-conditioning and loud box fans rumbling in our homes, the noise is inescapable. What must it be like for the thousands in my Manhattanville, Harlem neighborhood alone, who are consigned to open windows? Or worse, for those who make their beds on sidewalks, in parks, under scaffolding? Most recently, there are reports that the pranksters are targeting homeless people directly.

For all too many New Yorkers, the nightly displays create horror that goes way beyond the realm of inconvenient.

Many of my neighbors are veterans. This country has been in a perpetual war loop since the 1950s, and more veterans hail from my community than from most others. Veterans with PTSD roam our streets, struggling to put their lives back into tolerable order. Fireworks are among the worst triggers for PTSD.

On my street, the same street where the youngsters are lighting their weapons of nightly destruction, there is an assisted living home. The bombs burst in the air over fragile elderly tenants. It is a documented reality that noise like this, terrifying noise, can kill those who are most vulnerable.

Sleepless nights and concomitant anxiety put all city dwellers at higher risk for Covid-19. Immune systems suffer from the kind of nightly beating we are taking. While many are convinced that the pandemic is over or, worse, that it is no more than a hoax, the plague has not left us. It is not likely to leave anytime soon.

Like most people’s canine and feline family members, my daughter’s five-pound thirteen-year-old dog is driven berserk by the blasts. He has no peace, as he can hear discharges happening too far away for human ears to discern. He has not slept at all in several days. We consulted a veterinarian about sedating him. Sedation is no help. I wonder how long his minuscule heart will withstand the stress.

Once the sun has risen, the partiers trudge home to their sleep and leave the streets and sidewalks, playgrounds and empty lots littered with endless waste. The garbage is not only unsightly. It is dangerous. I saw a maintenance worker at the housing project across the street from me nearly kill himself sweeping up the mess. A half-dead roman candle exploded at the touch of his broom.

These nightly attacks are dangerous to the perpetrators themselves. Young men shoot at one another, aiming their explosives at their cohorts’ chests and faces, hitting them with brutal force. Injuries are proliferating among them. Bystanders and dog walkers find themselves caught in crossfire, hapless victims of the rampant rage that fuels the mock combat.

How long before the actions cease to be mere imitation and turn to stark reality? Already, because the noise of the fireworks masks the sound of gunfire, the number of shootings has escalated around the city. It would be ever so easy for this so-called celebration to turn into out-and-out turf wars.

Law enforcement refrains from intervening. The people have a right to celebrate, they argue. Having been cooped up with Covid-19 all these months, they deserve the unbridled freedom the protesters are marching for. Mayor de Blasio is intent on relieving the Natural History Museum of its offending statue of Teddy Roosevelt and the subservient “others” attending him. This Mayor has no interest in fireworks.

I support the marches and the protests. It is high time Juneteenth was a holiday instead of Columbus Day. I would applaud a proposal to replace the Fourth of July. Teddy Roosevelt, like most marbleized heroes, was guilty of heinous deeds that balanced his great achievements. No graven image seems sacrosanct to me. Tear ’em all down if you will.

That will solve nothing. TR has been dead for 111 years. He can’t hurt us anymore. Talking about his misdeeds might lead to conversations that could affect healing, but his statue serves no purpose good or bad.

The fireworks, on the other hand, pose a threat to us all. They have already divided the city. They have already become the symbolic cause célèbre of the woke left. Privilege has no weight in this arena, they declare, no right to extinguish the revels. That seems to mean that if I protest the disruption, the sleeplessness, the panic that come with the daily blasts, then I am simply spoiled, small-minded?

Why are the needs of the entire community subject to illegal displays, which are little more than pointless recklessness?Will my heart attack or my dog’s stroke or my homeless neighbor’s frenzy or our collective malaise cure the societal ills that have been perpetrated over the centuries?

There has to be a better way to make the system change.



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