Fireworks in ‘the Hood’
“Ain’t nobody that live on this street gettin’ any mutherfuckin’ sleep tonight!” he yells as a massive collection of fireworks explodes hundreds of feet above his head. Streaks of red and then silver light the sky and nearby, a gathered crowd of about fifty looks up and smiles. The onlookers smile both in awe of the impressive display of pyrotechnics and in acknowledgement of a certain truth: That they, indeed, are not going to sleep tonight. Fireworks will be erupting overhead for the next 4 to 5 hours.
“The Point,” or “El Punto” as many of the Spanish-speaking locals call it, is the part of Salem, Massachusetts that has the reputation of being “dangerous” or “ghetto” but in reality is a safe and inviting neighborhood of working class Latin immigrants. Fireworks are illegal here, as they are in all of Massachusetts. At about 9:15, on the wealthier side of town known for its “Salem Witch Trials” tourist spots and boating attractions, an official township-sanctioned firework show wowed thousands of onlookers by the harbor. But of course, that was 9:15 on the better side of town. Now it is midnight on July 5th, and it’s The Point’s turn to put on a show.
Fuses are lit and explosions persist throughout the neighborhood. Fireworks are thrown into a metal trashcan, creating earsplitting bangs that reverberate through the thin city blocks. Some parents have brought their children outside to watch. The kids stare and grin in amazement. Nobody is getting hurt, and everyone is having a damn good time.
Teenage kids in wife beaters and BMX bikes have been riding around the block. They are sentries. One of them yells and the kingpin of the fireworks display briskly dips down into an open door. A second later, cop cars roar down the street and the blue and red flashing lights serve as nice contrasts to the ones appearing intermittently in the sky.
The cops are, in fact, part of the show and they know it. Completely shutting down an illegal, yet large and well-behaved party on the 4th of July is not on their agenda. Nor would it mesh well with the desires of the other hundred or so spectators that have emerged from their homes to tour the neighborhood. Five or six more patrol cars appear and disperse to perceived hotspots. The men inside of them get out and tell everyone to go home. People scatter but do not leave.
For the first time in awhile, it is silent. The cops continue to stand, motionless and silent in front of their cars. Onlookers speak softly into the ears of their friends, afraid to disrupt the quiet. Eventually, a rocket screams from somewhere and then a few more. Soon the infamous paddy wagons arrive scaring off a few but none are arrested. Every time a few things explode, a few patrol cars fly over to the scene. After a few minutes, something explodes somewhere else a few blocks away. And, in front of where I’m sitting, a young swagged out twenty something with a white doo rag emerges every so often from a nearby house with a lighter and a case of explosives in his hand.
The cat and mouse game continues for a few hours until the 5-0 finally leaves. At this point, to use scientific terms, “shit really starts to pop off.” Some dude flies down the street in his beat up black Mustang and almost crashes into a parked car. He comes back around and peels out SO HARD as smoke flies through the crack in his window. Soon after, I get brave and fetch the box of fireworks that I had hidden behind some bushes. 20 bucks well spent. There is almost a fight but it is quickly quelled. “I live here, not the fuckin’ police!” is heard, as yet another wave of fireworks shoots into the night.
In the local paper the next day, reports of crowd size and hostility towards police are exaggerated. There is even a passage about rockets being fired towards police. Of course, anyone that isn’t the slightest bit naïve knows that if that were the case, arrests would have been made. The truth is of course that there was no hostility and no arrests (except one much earlier) in The Point that night. Just wholesome yet illegally induced good times.
photo courtesy of windsorfire.com
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