“It was horrible,” recalls resident Carla Forney. “Firecrackers were going, popping. My little dog got scared, I couldn’t keep her calm, and it went on until three or four o’clock in the morning.”
On that night, residents remember kids firing off salvos of fireworks into the wee morning hours of the morning. Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner said the projectiles, which are illegal to possess, sell or shoot off in Johnson City, were also shot at residents and responding police officers.
After a successful effort in 2019 to cut down the unwanted disturbance, a few dozen city officials and community leaders, including Forney and Turner, met at the Langston Centre on Tuesday evening to discuss ways to avoid a repeat of 2018. With the July 4 fireworks display at Freedom Hall Civic Center canceled because of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Turner said officials were concerned the neighborhood could see an uptick this year.
After seeing videos from that night, Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock said she felt homeowners were put in danger. Community members put together a plan that led to positive results in 2019, but she added that this year there are new variables at play.
“Everybody’s been pent up for a long time,” Brock said. “They want to get out, they want to celebrate, they want to be with each other, and we know that’s happening. Then we have the protests going on, so we have a lot of people wanting to express themselves as well. So you put a lot of those variables together, and I think that’s why chief wants to get a preventative plan in place.”
Among other ideas, attendees suggested hosting an event or a handful of small events on the Fourth of July to act as outlets, allowing fireworks during a brief window of time under certain guidelines and getting the word out on social media or via TV.
Pastor Mark Redd with Grace Temple Church cautioned against a militant approach and suggested members of the community, including coaches, school systems, church leaders and peers, work in their own spheres of influence to reach parents and kids to prevent similar behavior.
Science Hill High School Principal Todd Barnett said coaches would talking with student athletes about their expectations regarding behavior outside school.
Attendees agreed to form a committee that would present a plan at a followup meeting next week.
Forney, who led the discussion on Tuesday, said residents don’t want to see similar events take place in any other Johnson City community.
“We’ll know more next week about where we’re going, and how we’re going to do this,” she said. “It’s going to work.”