Last week, fireworks conspiracies were all the rage. As residents of major cities across the country noticed a drastic increase in pre-Independence Day fireworks going off into the wee hours of the night, people couldn’t help but wonder—is there something more sinister behind this?
A few of the early theories, including a viral Twitter thread from author Robert Jones, Jr., posited that the fireworks were a “coordinated attack on Black and Brown communities; an attack meant to disorient and destabilize the #BlackLivesMatter movement.” The fireworks were a means of sleep deprivation and “desensitization,” conditioning people to ignore loud explosions over time and write them off as fireworks.
Good morning Family:
— Son of Baldwin (Robert Jones, Jr.) (@SonofBaldwin) June 20, 2020
But a new story from The New York Times says different. What big city folks are hearing is essentially the perfect storm for massive summer fireworks. After months of quarantine, people want to blow off steam; fireworks companies, hurt by the COVID-19 economy, are offering unprecedented discount deals; clearing out fireworks warehouses to resell them at a markup to fellow city residents who want in on the explosive action.
The confluence of conditions appear to explain the fireworks uptick. Still, the conspiracies relied on a few factors the Times piece and others don’t address—namely how far police departments are willing to go to disrupt and agitate protests. After more than two weeks of breaking up peaceful demonstrations with tear gas, rubber bullets, and other outwardly violent means, psychological disorientation would seem well within law enforcement’s purview. That’s led some on social media that fireworks are the police’s new “bait bricks” which were left out in neat piles during protests to tacitly encourage property destruction and looting.
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Thank you to @celinecelines for giving me a heads up that there has been pushback on comparing the Fireworks situation to the Crack epidemic. Having a platform, it is my responsibility to respond to new information as it is also presented to me. How do we balance sharing info and raising awareness without censoring ourselves as well? Reposting original observations below. I’ve tweaked the image to reflect my own take ——— The thing is- whether the fireworks are a result of people legally buying fireworks/unknown parties providing/cops/instigators/your friend etc- I don’t really understand why it couldn’t be possible that all of the above and more could be true? This is the kind of defining binary thinking US culture continues to be plagued in. The psychology behind wearing a mask + not wearing a mask Bc the CDC was delayed in announcing or as I’ve seen said: “inconsistent” and yet other countries fighting Coronaviruses/SARS have BEEN wearing masks. Let’s be real- everyone would have thought COVID19 and country wide CURFEWS back in Jan. would have been a “conspiracy theory”. Up until a few weeks ago a grip of ppl didn’t even believe in systemic racism. Saying Covid19 is a “Hoax”- not necessarily “exaggerated” but a “Hoax.” Why does everything have to be labeled or written off a “conspiracy theory” just because you personally don’t agree or don’t physically live in the same neighborhoods as people who are vocalizing a “less mainstream” take on a specific new Covid19 experience? This post is about “fireworks” as a black square exercise (in a way) and not about whether you enjoy them or find them traumatizing but as a tool that by nature is capable of disorientation/annoyance/sleep depravation. What is the language around describing a sensory experience of consecutively listening to fireworks/firecrackers/m80s/gunshots? How can people allegedly protesting against police brutality and systemic racism still find it a “reach” when people are pointing out the possibility the campaign of fireworks can also be used as an overt/covert tactics of policing/unrest? Does policing always have to be physically threatening/tactical to register?Taking it further- which types of👇🏼
The theories also submit that police, frustrated with constant demands for their defunding and abolition, are rebelling by ignoring fireworks-related noise complaints (Jones specifically mentions this in his thread). Noise complaints have risen astronomically this year and police departments have been slow to respond. Perhaps the lack of response could be due to fear of perceptions of over-policing, specifically in Black neighborhoods and other communities of color. But it doesn’t fully explain incidents like the one recorded in West Harlem on June 22, where police drove around slowly with their lights on and sirens blaring.
— Jeo (@fromzerotojeo) June 22, 2020
Other reports from New York and beyond have described police as being in on the fireworks disruptions, as well as pyrotechnics being shadily distributed. One poster pointed out that fireworks in NYC, which had normally been going until 2 or 3 a.m., started to taper off earlier the night after a massive protest in front of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mansion.
These are the kind of factors and questions conspiracy theories rely on—individual accounts that are difficult (or impossible) to verify and that, when combined together, form a loosely-constructed series of unprovable truths.
Either way, it’s hard to question the ears of city residents, which verify the massive increase in firework explosions. The uncertainties of our current moment have people on edge, and it’s not hard for the mind to wander toward sinister conclusions. The reasons for the fireworks increase are likely multi-faceted and simple all at once—and so are the fears that accompany it.