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Illegal Fireworks Rattled Upper Manhattan for Weeks Before July 4

By Carla Zanoni | July 6, 2012 10:23am

UPPER MANHATTAN — People setting off illegal fireworks have been terrorizing residents in Inwood and Washington Heights since the middle of June, culminating in 16 arrests and nearly 200 summons issued on July 4th, locals and police say.

Residents say the illegal festivities started early in upper Manhattan streets, with fireworks going off at least two weeks in advance of the 4th of July. Mortars, bottle rockets and poppers boomed and crackled throughout the 34th Precinct, building to a pyromaniac frenzy by dawn on July 5. 

“The overstretched 34th Precinct completely lost control over upper Manhattan last night,” Inwood resident and Glittersnipe editor-in-chief Xtina D’Angelo wrote in an open letter to Commissioner Ray Kelly July 5, detailing the scene she witnessed in Inwood Wednesday night.

Illegal fireworks were set off throughout Washington Heights and Inwood on July 4, 2012.
Illegal fireworks were set off throughout Washington Heights and Inwood on July 4, 2012.
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The Uptown Collective/Blast Luciano

”I saw many of your officers doing their best, but it's not enough,” she added, describing the night’s events — including booms that sounded like someone was bombing her kitchen — as the worst she had seen in the 13 years she’s lived in the area. 

"The actions of probably a hundred people destroyed the quality of life for thousands and thousands of people last night," D'Angelo also wrote on Facebook. "I have never in my life witnessed such astonishing anarchy."

Other Inwood residents also weighed in on the Independence Day mayhem, saying while it's nothing new in the area, it seemed particularly bad this year.

“The battle that inspired Francis Scott Key wasn't as loud as the blasts I'm hearing outside our apartment right now,” tweeted @TVFury just before 11 p.m. July 4th.  

“Wonder where everybody in #Inwood gets this relentless, unending supply of fireworks every year? Do the Mr. Softee trucks sell those, too?” tweeted Inwood resident Ben Deutsch at 12:52 a.m. as part of a flurry of firework-related angry tweets throughout the night. 

The Uptown Collective, a website that covers north of 155th Street, posted a story Thursday about uptown's ongoing culture of bigger-is-better when it comes to fireworks. 

"For those that don’t know, each block was in a fireworks war with the other, doing their best to upstage and outshine any and all competitors," editor-in-chief Led Black wrote in a story accompanied by a slideshow of photos taken by inwood artist Emmanuel "DJ Boy" Abreu.

"Thousands of dollars of Pennsylvania’s best pyrotechnics went up in smoke in the skies above Washington Heights last night," Black wrote.

But one Inwood resident, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said the battle over loud fireworks can turn ugly for those who try to complain about them.

The man said he became frustrated with a group of men lighting off fireworks under cars along his block the week before the holiday.

"They were so drunk they couldn't stand the fireworks up so they were flying under cars and exploding," he said.

He said he confronted the men and they threatened him with physical harm. He said he reported the incident to the police.

Police said they were very busy addressing the chaos Wednesday night, arresting 16 people and writing 180 summons for consumption of alcohol in public, unreasonable noise and disorderly conduct.

The NYPD offered a $1,000 reward for tips leading to the arrest of someone with illegal fireworks in New York City.
The NYPD offered a $1,000 reward for tips leading to the arrest of someone with illegal fireworks in New York City.
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"On July 4th, the precinct actively addressed community concerns, including those regarding illegal fireworks and consumption of alcohol in public," Deputy Inspector Barry Buzzetti, the commanding officer of the 34th Precinct, wrote in an email 

The department had posted flyers, including one on Dyckman Street, offering a $1,000 reward for information on anyone with illegal pyrotechnics.

"Fireworks are illegal, the New York City Police Department urges you to celebrate safely on July 4th," the flyer writes, "If you use fireworks, you or someone else can get seriously hurt. If you have fireworks, we can ARREST YOU, your car can be confiscated, or your business can be closed."

Residents said Inwood Hill Park and Fort Tryon Park showed evidence of the fireworks explosions and accompanying festivities Thursday morning.

People were spotted sleeping in the parks after dawn in both parks, witnesses said, and piles of trash greeted Parks employees as they came to work Thursday morning.

“The problem with Inwood Hill Park seems to be that there are not enough Park Rangers to enforce much of anything on the weekends,” said Indian Road Café owner Jason Minter. “And this seems to be escalating pretty rapidly.”

The Parks Department did not respond to a request for comment.