New York is compressing all of the upheavals of the 1970s — job loss, population exodus, looting, rising crime, existential questions of what the city is even for — into a disorienting few months. Add another one: deteriorating quality of life. How the city addresses its fireworks scourage has vast implications about whether we retain our tax base.
Pop, pop, pop — New Yorkers, middle class and working poor, black and white, have their efforts at dinner, relaxation and sleep punctuated every night with a barrage. Fireworks complaints to 911 this year are up to 13,315, nearly 13 times the figure last year.
But the NYPD won’t attempt to stop anyone setting off illegal fireworks. “They have many other things, particularly, the NYPD, dealing right now with other profound challenges,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week. Yes, he has set up a task force to try to cut off supply by arresting large-scale sellers — but the streets themselves will stay lawless.
The fireworks scourge afflicting neighborhoods may seem minor, compared to a skyrocketing murder rate. But New York’s ’70s history, when it lost a million people to suburbs and other regions, shows that people are driven away by minor things.
Even at the height of New York’s 25-year crime wave, between the mid-’60s and early ’90s, middle-class and upper-class people were highly unlikely to be murdered or otherwise seriously harmed. Then, as now, perpetrators and victims were mostly young, poorer minority men. It was the little things that affected everyone that made people give up: coming home to a burgled apartment; having to endure a graffitied, delayed subway train.
Plus, the fireworks aren’t so little. A 3-year-old Bronx toddler, Adiel Rosario, drawn to his window by the noise, suffered burns and cuts last week when a firework landed in his apartment. Another Bronx family is left homeless because a stray firework destroyed their apartment.
And as with the rest of broken-windows policing, catching a firework miscreant may prevent a larger crime. Also last week, attackers targeted a firework at a sleeping, elderly homeless man in Harlem, causing burns. That’s not harmless fun; that’s utterly cruel depravity.
People in poorer neighborhoods don’t favor all this “fun.” Jesus Rosario, Adiel’s father, said flatly that “the cops aren’t doing anything at all.” At last week’s e-meeting of Community Board 16, covering Brownsville and Ocean Hill, two of the poorest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, one resident curtly dismissed an assertion made by a representative of Borough President Eric Adams that the situation was under control.
For people in Brownsville, the fireworks scourge comes atop more serious problems. The murder rate there is up 83 percent this year; shootings are up 92 percent. Now, though, poisonous racial politics are preventing people who can focus on quality of life from speaking out.
Irina Manta, a Ditmas Park resident and mother of a young child, tried to constructively address the fireworks issue this month, circulating a draft petition suggesting that non-police, civilian mediators try to address this issue.
A group called Equality for Flatbush termed this a “white-supremacist sentiment” and said that fireworks were “a culturally accepted norm of Brooklyn” and “an act of resistance” against police.
They also called her a “Karen,” a word increasingly used as a sexist slur to make middle-age, white and female mouths stay firmly shut in an online world dominated by young, mostly white men.
A small but determined group “engaged in a doxxing campaign,” Manta tells me. “I received multiple harassing calls and one call was an unambiguous death threat.”
People who want to improve quality of life are also termed gentrifiers. It’s a good thing we had gentrification — white, black and immigrant — to reclaim central Brooklyn, Harlem and the South Bronx after the ’70s. Cities such as Detroit, which never regained their populations, don’t have such problems.
If people with means can’t speak up, for fear of being called racists, and even for fear of losing corporate jobs in an increasingly paranoid environment for public debate, they will leave. That leaves behind people like Jesus Rosario, hoping the police “definitely put a stop to it” — before more children are injured, or worse.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post
Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images