KALAMAZOO TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Jen Strebs is not a big fan of fireworks, she said.
They can be distressing, especially for animals she said. However she believes people should be allowed to use them on holidays, including Juneteenth or June 19th.
“This year in Kalamazoo on Juneteenth we saw widespread celebration with fireworks,” Strebs said about the holiday that honors the day the last slaves that were freed two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. “The community came together and put out a Black Lives Matter mural downtown on Juneteenth. It’s an important holiday that deserves recognition.”
Strebs said currently the state of Michigan allows fireworks to be used on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends and holidays, the week of the Fourth of July and New Years Eve.
However the state of Michigan passed legislation to mitigate the use of fireworks, she said. They also steepened the fines given to people who use them on non-approved holidays.
“It was then up to local government to decide if any other days would be allowed,” Strebs said. “Recently, because of those changes in state law, the charter township took a review of our fireworks ordinance. And, in that review there’s a change in the fines that comes forward, from using fireworks on days that are not approved. It goes up from $150 to a $1,000 fine.”
So, Strebs asked the board that Juneteenth be added to the list of approved dates to use fireworks and it was denied, she said.
The board voted 6-1 during the first reading of the ordinance, which did not include Juneteenth.
“If we’re going to address systemic inequity and systemic racism, we got be able to at least do it over simple issues like when we can celebrate our independence with fireworks,” Strebs said. “If we can’t do that, how then do we get to the complex issues like economic disparity, health disparity, educational disparity. So this should be an easy one.”
Strebs said the state also mandated that $500 of the fines given out goes to local police departments. She fears that this may be an added incentive to give out more fines on non-approved dates.
“I feel really disheartened that a board would make decisions that would directly impact people who look like me who are a large representation of Kalamazoo Township,” said Veronica McKissack, a Black woman who lives in the township and is the democratic candidate for county commission.
McKissack fears that passing such an ordinance without including Juneteenth would weaken the relationship between the Black community and law enforcement.
So she simply asks ‘why not add June 19?’
“I think this is a great opportunity, especially since our governor has just declared racism as a public health crisis,” said McKissack. “It’s disheartening to say the least and I hope that they’re willing to correct it.”
Strebs hopes so too. The final vote is scheduled for August 24.
“There’s a concern from some board members that if we give one group the opportunity to celebrate their special day then other groups are going to want to do the same thing,” Strebs said. “And I say ‘that’s what equity would look like.’”