By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
After Tuesday night’s continuous sounds of boom and bang commemorating the Fourth of July holiday, Christopher Jackson and dozens of other community residents say it is time to legalize fireworks in Illinois, to help fill the budget gap and because the law is never enforced anyway. Jackson is just one of several Chicago residents the Crusader spoke with Wednesday morning, who were cleaning up firework debris from the night before. Residents say fireworks should be legalized because people ignore the law, police stay off the streets for fear of being shot and the city and state could use the tax revenue.
“It sounded like I was back in Iraq, with all of the explosions,” said Jackson, a former army infantryman. “I’m not talking small firecrackers, these people had all sorts of rockets, M-80’s and I swear at one point I heard what sounded like a stick of dynamite go off. It was going on all day but it really ratcheted up when it got dark about 9 p.m.”
Mary Wells of Chatham said her normally quiet block sounded like there was a war going on and she was not positive there were not some gunshots mixed in with fireworks. Wells said during the holiday, she tends to stay in the basement of her home until the next morning. “I don’t even go on the upper floors of my home on July 4th. I sleep in the basement guest bedroom because I fear a bullet will come through the window,” she explained as she swept up fireworks debris from in front of her home Wednesday morning. “It’s something I’ve been doing for years.”
Despite the annual problems for Jackson and Wells, they both say fireworks should be legal in Illinois. Other people the Crusader spoke with this week also believe it is time to change the law. Most people say Illinois should change the law because it is ineffective and is allowing fireworks shops in Northwest Indiana to make a lot of money and the State of Indiana to tax the industry to the benefit of “Hoosier” residents.
With Illinois still not having a budget and the state in dire need of new revenue, Illinois residents say legislators in Springfield need to wake up.
“Tax those fireworks,” says Roberto Ramirez from suburban Berwyn. “We are broke, can’t pass a budget, here is something people are buying every year despite the law, but our politicians don’t think they should legalize it? We have the dumbest politicians in the country,” said an angry Jasmine Wright from Washington Heights. “I see people driving around with trunks full of fireworks that they are selling as a side hustle. They all drive to Indiana and come back and sell them here because the police can’t stop it.”
Illinois is one of only six states in the country that ban fireworks.
“Lawmakers can and should end Illinois’ paternalistic fireworks ban. The law cuts off fair access to the fruits of a huge industry. More importantly, it limits the personal freedoms long celebrated by bringing light to dark prairie skies,” wrote Austin Berg, a proponent of changing the law, for the Illinois Policy Institute.
At least one lawmaker in downstate Illinois agrees. State Sen. Chapin Rose (R-51st) introduced a bill to legalize fireworks in 2015. This week he told the Crusader he still thinks the law should be changed and perhaps with the state in such a financial crisis lawmakers will now be willing to act on the issue.
“This is the perfect example of how Illinois’ bad business climate has driven jobs out of Illinois and into our surrounding states – leaving our state’s budget worse off in the process,” Rose told the Crusader. “Virtually every state around us is selling fireworks. We’ve been losing out on that sales tax income for decades and the jobs being created.”
Jackson said Illinois refuses to learn from mistakes of the past. He said people in his South Side neighborhood drive 10 minutes to Indiana for everything from cigarettes, food, gas, and anything else they can get their hands on.
“It’s like our politicians are stuck on stupid and the African American ones are the dumbest. They are the ones whose constituents are suffering the most and they cannot come up with one tangible idea to help the community, even when it is staring them in the face, like this one,” Jackson said.
The argument against legalizing fireworks has always been one of safety. Last year, 175 people were injured by fireworks during a four-week period, according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office. This week one person on the North Side was killed and several others seriously injured by fireworks, according to authorities. But those in favor of legalizing fireworks say people are more likely to be killed by an act of violence then they are by fireworks, which are primarily only used for a few weeks out of the year.
The Illinois Pyrotechnic Use Act prohibits the sale, possession and use of consumer fireworks. People who buy in Indiana and other states could get up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine once they cross back into Illinois, if caught by police. But that rarely happens, says a man who goes by the name of “Ready Freddy” who sells fireworks every year illegally in Illinois.
“This is my come up. It’s like Christmas in July,” he said. “Everyone wants fireworks and I supply them. I travel to other states, mostly in the south because they have the best stuff at the cheapest price. I sell to anyone except kids. The most popular stuff for people in the Chicago area are mortars and rockets. Nobody is coming to me for firecrackers and sparklers. People want to be able to put on a show for their block or their hood.”
He estimates every year he nets a profit of over $4,000 for a few weeks of work. He also has a regular job as a deliveryman, which is how he meets many of his fireworks clients.
Freddy said as long as Illinois keeps fireworks illegal there will be people like him to supply the public, and citizens themselves will simply go to other states and buy. “Fireworks are something everyone enjoys,” says Freddy. “People don’t want to drive downtown and deal with the crowds if they can have a nice show right there on their own block.”