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FAQ: What we know about the fireworks in Baltimore

In the run-up to the July Fourth holiday, reoccurring fireworks in the Baltimore have elicited lots of discussion from residents.

On Thursday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison urged people to come forward if they know where the pyrotechnics are being stored, sold or set off. But this goes against a comment from a spokesperson for Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who said her office has never prosecuted fireworks violations, even before the pandemic.

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As the holiday finally draws near, here’s everything we have learned about the fireworks going off in the city.

It’s not clear why they’re being set off

Officials and residents have offered various reasons behind the evening fireworks displays — ranging from boredom and restlessness to acts of defiance. Many major cities have seen weeks of fireworks go off at all hours of the night, from Boston to Los Angeles.

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And on the internet, conspiracy theories have flourished. But, as the New York Times reported last month: “After months of quarantine and social distancing, people are bored, and setting off fireworks for fun — and seeing fireworks just makes fireworks enthusiasts want to set off more fireworks.”

In a June 9 Zoom call with Pigtown residents archived on Facebook, Southern Police District Maj. Byron Conaway said youngsters were behind the displays, and recommended that neighbors or groups of neighbors approach the kids in a non-confrontational manner.

Meanwhile, the president of the Carrollton Ridge neighborhood community association said she spoke with a group of adults in their 20s and 30s about setting off the fireworks, who claim they had been engaging in a fireworks competition of sorts with other neighborhoods.

And still others point out that the amatuer fireworks are a tradition in Baltimore, pandemic or not.

“Fireworks and dirt bikes are a regular, Baltimore thing,” Reservoir Hill Catalina Byrd said. “I don’t mean to be insensitive toward people with [post traumatic stress disorder] and veterans, but it’s just indicative of summer in Baltimore. It’s normal.”

You can buy fireworks for cheap

Owners of fireworks shops in York, Pennsylvania, where many Marylanders go to stock up on pyrotechnics that are harder to find in the state, said that firecrackers and other loud noisemakers sell for as little as $2.

Other, more vibrant products are more expensive, with some selling for as much as $200 each.

There’s also no limit to the amount of fireworks you can purchase per trip, and no required license or background check required to buy.

York, Pennsylvania is also a quick trip away from the city. There are shops directly off Interstate 83 that are advertised with large billboards.

Shop owners also said they have been running special deals aimed at getting more customers in the door, such as buy-one-get-one or buy-one-get-two promotional sales.

They might not end after July 4

Some have theorized that the fireworks stemmed from excitement about the upcoming holiday, often celebrated in official, statewide capacities that will not occur this year due to the pandemic. But it’s not a given that the fireworks will end when the holiday weekend does.

Residents say they first started hearing fireworks go off in late May, over Memorial Day weekend. That precedes the police killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police as well as the ensuing protests and rallies held in response.

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Though it is possible that some link exists between the swell of national fervor around the Black Lives Matter movement and the fireworks, the timeline does not exactly match.

If the fireworks are geared toward the disappointment about not being able to attend professional displays this year, it’s possible that people bought their own to fill the void. But it remains to be seen whether they’ll continue.

Fireworks are illegal in Baltimore and much of the state

Consumer fireworks are banned in much of Maryland, including in Baltimore City and Montgomery, Howard and Prince George’s counties, as well as in the town of Bel Air and in Ocean City (the laws are not as strict in Pennsylvania). But just because it is unlawful does not necessarily mean it can be prosecuted.

Conaway said while Baltimore police have been logging fireworks complaints, they rank low in priority.

He added that Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has reduced the number of prosecutions for nonviolent crimes amid the coronavirus pandemic so as to not overcrowd jails and prisons or stretch police departments too thin.

Still, Baltimore Police Department spokeswoman Nicole Monroe said members of the community are encouraged to report locations where fireworks are being stored, ignited or sold.

“Fireworks are not only illegal in Baltimore City but they are extremely dangerous and can cause loss of vision, severe burns, other serious injuries, as well as fires,” she said in an email. “As always, if you see something, say something.”

Those who wish to remain anonymous can utilize the Metro Crime Stoppers tip-line, at 1-866-7LOCK-UP or simply dial 911.

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