AT LENGTH - On my drive down Pacific Avenue to a Fourth of July party overlooking Cabrillo Beach this year, I noticed the flashing temporary road sign placed by the City’s workers that read, “All fireworks and alcohol are illegal.”
I chuckled to myself as I was headed to the Beach City Market to pick up a bottle of wine before showing up to the “official” fireworks display being ignited. Trying to stop people from celebrating this national holiday without fireworks and alcohol is like attempting to sweep the tide back at the beach with a broom. On top of this, there is this inherent sense of patriotic right of free expression to blow up some arsenal of gunpowder while inebriated to prove our American-ness! Perhaps this is subconsciously linked to our belief in the Second Amendment?
Now, I’m not sure that the majority of folks out here celebrating know whether July 4 is about celebrating the passage of the Bill of Rights, winning the American Revolution, defeating the British in the War of 1812, the signing of the Declaration of Independence or if they even care at this point.
However, from my perspective on that night overlooking San Pedro Bay, the night’s festivities looked more like the Battle of New Orleans or the siege of Baltimore Harbor. You see, as night falls on this hallowed night, my neighborhood –like many all over this city for weeks ahead– people fire off bottle rockets and firecrackers in stealth. Dogs bark. Car alarms go off, and children scream with glee.
This annual Independence Day battle lasts until all the ammo runs out and all the beer is drunk. Then everybody goes home to sleep it off. Overlooking the field-of-fire, the skies over nearly every block, from Point Fermin to 22nd Street billowed with gun-smoke and skyrockets.
This night is one of the best examples of when more than one-tenth of the population simultaneously chooses to break the law. There’s not much that the authorities can do! There are not enough officers in the Los Angeles Police Department, Port Police department or fire department to do much more than control the thousands that show up at the beach, direct traffic, give out a few tickets for bad behavior and inspect the pyrotechnics used by experts.
Besides, they are more truly worried about some lone terrorist sneaking into the crowd and igniting a shrapnel-laced pressure cooker bomb like the Boston Marathon bombing. Was Homeland Security on the scene? Was the NSA listening?
My main point is that on this national day of exuberance, things change. Priorities of law enforcement shift and discretionary enforcement of the “no fireworks and no alcohol ” laws change to something you might call “enforcement for the common good,” without doing something stupid like shooting somebody’s dog or arresting the Councilman’s staff.
If, on any other day of the year, the authorities found just one of these stashes of celebratory ammo, the SWAT team would be called, the Bomb Squad rousted, the HAZMAT team brought into action, and the neighborhood evacuated. It makes you wonder what your neighbors are stashing in their garages, doesn’t it?
I’m not suggesting that the authorities just give up on nights like this. I’m not suggesting that they hide in their newly built bunkers and wait for the calls either, but that they take a proactive approach. Host a community fireworks show where neighbors could gather and bring their own, for example. This could take place at a distance to the over-crowded beach area where friendly fire department folks could demonstrate safe handling, for both young and old, in a contained area with fire equipment present –if needed– and where the police can put into practice their community based policing skills. What I’m suggesting is that instead of this being seen as a challenge to enforcement. Let’s use this as an opportunity to connect.
This is also an opportunity for one or more of our local nonprofits to promote. I can imagine the Friends of Fort MacArthur cooperating with the San Pedro Chamber, Clean San Pedro and others, and figure out how to have just this kind of community fireworks event without it costing $50,000-plus in pyrotechnics. After all, the fireworks would be donated by the attendees!
I’m in no way suggesting that this would cure the national day of patriotic law breaking. I kind of enjoy this expression self-indulgent independence. I just think that, we as a city, should stop pretending that we can contain it by putting up signs to which obviously no one is paying attention.
(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. More of Allen and other views and news at randomlengthsnews.com where this column was first posted) –cw
Vol 11 Issue 57
Pub: July 16, 2013