I’ll be straight with you; I’m a gentrifier. I came from the suburbs of Pittsburgh and studied “Dramatic Writing” at the Tisch School of Arts. After graduating in 2019, I moved to East Williamsburg where I currently live in an apartment one block away from rows and rows of government housing.
Every night since June 9th, I see two things from my rooftop: a sea of fellow gentrifiers wearing no masks and drinking, and fireworks. But these fireworks aren’t being set off by the podcasters with New Balance collections. They’re sparked by the Black, Brown, and Latino families who have lived here for decades, before the first wave of gentrification in the latter part of the 1990's.
There’s two prevalent theories circulating about why there is such an uptick in fireworks. Some postulate that this is part of a violent BLM insurgency. Others say that it’s an anti-BLM CIA operation. Both are wrong. During the 1980’s the feds lived undercover to weasel crack cocaine into these same Black and Brown neighborhoods to cause hysteria and violence. But today’s police state has no need to dismantle Black America from within. They already do that publicly and with their chest.
Understanding that, many others claim the fireworks upswing is “about the killing(s).” They theorize insurgents are attacking peaceful neighborhoods in response to police brutality. It’s true that there has been an astronomical surge in Fireworks usage. Popular Ohio-based brand Phantom Fireworks claims a 400% increase in sales every day this year compared to last, and nearly half to new customers. This cited rise in firework sales started well before the deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. Just as gun sales skyrocketed when fears of quarantine leading to civil unrest were brewing, people also stocked up on their pyrotechnics.
[Gentrifiers] publicly outcry against the dangers of a militarized nation. But when they go home, they still call the cops on their Black and Brown neighbors who are often the victims of police brutality.
These conspiracy theories reek of liberal faux wokeness and kombucha. For one thing, neither of these theories stem from local Brooklynites. They are propagated by their gentrifier neighbors on social media. For another, the fireworks from the western chunk of Williamsburg, which white hipsters have completely overrun, aren’t the ones being videotaped and shared on Twitter.
Only the Roman Candle fights conducted by adolescents in project housing are being compared to “a warzone” or “the Middle East.” It’s not just lousy online jokes that make light of both institutional racism and the hegemonic wars America has been waging literally my entire life. There's been a 4000% increase in fireworks noise complaints in Brooklyn.
Gentrifiers here are calling the cops on local Black and Brown youth who remind them of insurgents and terrorists. Combine this with the fact that many individuals want to prohibit fireworks because of veterans' PTSD and you have to question whose interests we as Americans really prioritize.
The fear of a militarized state is rational, but not because of “minority” civilians setting off fireworks. Gentrifiers are doing mental gymnastics to rationalize a woke excuse for calling the cops on these civilians. What’s ironic is, the traditionally left-leaning nature of Brooklyn gentrifiers has them on the side of minorities and the underrepresented, at least superficially. These people aren’t boxed in with the ‘Posted A Black Square On Instagram’ Manhattanite crowd. For the most part, the gentrifiers I’m referring to are typically well versed on praxis and ethics. But none of that changes their clouded privilege. They fear gunshots and the allusion of a militarized state because they fear death. And in doing so, forget that this fear is natural, unending, and everyday for Brown, and especially Black Americans because of our nation’s tyrannical police state. That is, the former hyper-privileged individuals do have empathy. They publicly outcry against the dangers of a militarized nation. But when they go home, they still call the cops on their Black and Brown neighbors who are often the victims of police brutality.
Who are we as gentrifiers to complain about localers disrupting their environment when we're the ones who did it first by forcing ourselves in their community?
Like I said, I’m a gentrifier and I’ve been on edge too. Two days before Juneteenth on my birthday, my friend and I had been protesting police brutality in downtown Manhattan. The entire city was tense and sirens blared nonstop. Curfew was still upheld and the L train wasn’t running. Even Citi Bike rentals were limited in a not-so-subtle push from Mayor deBlasio to discourage protestors.
At 11pm, we just biked across Williamsburg Bridge and found ourselves sitting on a nice bench at North 5th Pier. We were riding high after the protest and the cool East River breeze felt soothing. Suddenly, I heard a sound like a flashbang. It was just fireworks, but my heightened sense of alertness had me jolting off the bench like a Looney Tunes character. My protesting compatriot theorized that a renegade security guard had shot up the luxury condo building behind us, a “joke” on brand with the season’s proletariat uprising, yet nevertheless problematic. When we saw a second flash just beyond our peripheral, we hopped onto our Citi Bikes and raced away.
I can’t tell you why I darted home so quickly that night. I was tired and genuinely confused the fireworks for gunshots. So I can understand how others might feel the need to call the cops. It feels like our way of life is disturbed. But we have to remember, who are we as gentrifiers to complain about localers disrupting their environment when we're the ones who did it first by forcing ourselves in their community?
It’s important to check our privilege going forward. Before overreacting and aggrandizing your situation, take a moment to assess where you are—are you in the perfect White suburbia you grew up in or are you in someone else’s cultural neighborhood? Moreover, are you really in the right to disrupt the fun had by locals whom you force to pay higher property tax?
I think the real reason for the fireworks is simply that they’re fun and a stress release. We’re only halfway through 2020 and everything we thought we understood about independence, democracy, even a functioning government, has been proven a lie. Society is more vulnerable and scared than ever. This summer we are all repressing our desires and anger. We can’t even have sex without the fear of contagion.
It’s natural for people, especially Black and Brown Americans to let off steam (sparks in this case). It does not require de Blasio to create an Illegal Fireworks Task Force. When we were on the streets screaming to defund the cops, we did not want our funds to be reallocated to something so inherently racist.
The only conspiracy is the one of embedded institutional racism that has even the most left-leaning of us calling the cops on Black Americans participating in a normal summertime activity.
It’s the third night after July 4th as I write this, and fireworks are still being set off. It’s clear that the fireworks had nothing to do with the holiday or America. I’ve seen more Black and Brown men set off fireworks than gentrifiers. They’re not celebrating independence or showing patriotism, they’re simply having fun. But it’s clear Black and Brown people can’t have fun without being vilified and scrutinized as a threat to the White way of living, let alone when that fun sounds like gunshots and explosions.
This year feels like a soft reboot to America: a pandemic with U.S. taking top rank in the growing death toll, protests to defund the police, desperate demands for Black human rights and equality, and collectively cancelling out murder hornets and comedians. Recreational explosives should be the least of our worries.
Fellow gentrifiers, if we’re serious about making societal change and advancing it for the betterment of everyone, check yourselves and let your neighbors live even if they’re making noise. There’s no violence, no insurgency going off in tandem with the sparklers. The only conspiracy is the one of embedded institutional racism that has even the most left-leaning of us calling the cops on Black Americans participating in a normal summertime activity. And forget 4th of July fireworks as an expression of American “independence” and “patriotism” too. The only thing these fireworks symbolize is that this country hasn’t achieved any measure of the liberation it claims to be a global model for. This year, let’s just enjoy some fire in the sky.