As we head into fireworks season, I despair that there is no one in city or state government who will protect us from four to six weeks of nightly bombardments of horrific proportions.
Looking up Longfellow Street, I see a street lined with wood framed houses, singles, two, and three family, just like most of the streets in Dorchester. And I know that we are facing a very dry summer, possibly a season of drought. We live in one big tinder box.
Last year, in one of the hundreds of calls that I personally made to the police night-after-night for weeks, I was told that Longfellow Street was in an officially designated “hot zone.” I wonder how many homes will burn as we cower helplessly wondering who will be next? How many friends, like those on Mt. Everett Street, will be forced to find a new home or live in temporary housing for a year while their home is rebuilt after a fireworks attack?
What can be done? Fireworks are illegal in Massachusetts and there are multiple means of enforcement that are not being used in spite of the whining to the contrary of those whose job is to protect us.
• The police can issue fines to people who possess fireworks. A police official told me that in his 15 years on the BPD, he had never heard of that being done, even once. Even though the exact addresses where fireworks were being detonated were given every time that my neighbors and I called in a complaint, we were told repeatedly that nothing could be done unless they caught the perpetrators “red-handed.” But isn’t catching criminals red-handed the very definition of the mission of the BPD? Do they really not know how to do that? They were telling us falsely that they are helpless and we are without protection.
• The police cannot be bothered to use undercover officers to sit down the street from known fireworks criminals and catch them “red-handed.” They do not use the pile of spent explosives in front of a house, eyewitnesses, or door-to-door canvassing as probable causes to obtain a warrant to search the property for explosives.
• Informing the insurance company that a building that is the scene of multi all-night fireworks is a “problem property” would put the landlord on notice that insurance premiums will be increased unless the designation is removed. This is never done.
• If illegal fireworks are found, by whatever means, they were transported across state lines and this is a federal offense. No one is ever charged.
• Advertising the sale of fireworks that are illegal in Massachusetts but can be purchased in New Hampshire or Rhode Island is criminal activity on the part of the fireworks company. Last year, Dorchester was deluged with those advertisements in the mail and on local billboards. The attorney general issued a warning letter to the New Hampshire company to cease those mailings. The reply was a figurative “Bronx Cheer.”
• The Massachusetts State Police have never created a sting operation that followed a car laden with fireworks from the distributor and arrested them as they cross the state line. Last year three vans loaded with fireworks were removed from one home in Malden.
• Last year, I complained to a local elected official about the pathetic police response and was told, “I wouldn’t even get out of my cruiser if I was a cop.” Apparently, the BPD operates on the same principle, knowing that they will get no blowback from other officials.
• What if there were a highly publicized press conference where the attorney general and multiple police officials issued a strong warning? How many highly publicized arrests and prosecutions would it take to send a clear deterrent message to fireworks criminals?
The simple truth is that no one who could help us cares about the fireworks that plague minority/majority neighborhoods. Wringing their hands, they brush us off with false protestations of helplessness. The perpetrators know that and laugh up their sleeves.
Meanwhile we face weeks on end of bombardments from sundown until 4 a.m. Some of us have elderly or sick family members, some have infants, others have dogs cowering wide-eyed in a corner, and all of us have pillows over our ears praying for sleep. Yet, there is no one at a city, state, or federal level who will take the lead to protect us by simply using the many existing laws, codes, procedures, and other tools already in their hands.
I say, “Stop wringing your hands and protect us!”
Ed Cook lives in Dorchester.