Detroit sky ablaze again in fireworks, and from ground, a chorus of 'oohs' and 'aahs'
Detroit — For folks who drove, walked or biked to get a front-row seat for the fireworks in Detroit on Monday, it was a matter of a return to normal, of fun and family.
The Ford Fireworks event roared back to life at 10:10 p.m. in the city for the first time in three years. Thousands of people had made their way downtown for the show, which kicked off with bursts of red exploding in the sky above the Renaissance Center. The event led to no major incidents and few arrests police officials said.
“It feels like the best fireworks all over the world. I wouldn’t rather be any place but Detroit right now," said Lena Byrd, 40, of Flint, who watched from Hart Plaza. "I would definitely come back."
Josephine Turner proclaimed the show "so exciting."
"I did not expect this," the 54-year-old from Detroit said. "It's beautiful. I would want to come again."
The last time the fireworks were launched from Detroit was 2019, before the pandemic forced the show to be produced from Lake St. Clair Metro Park for the last two years.
At Hart Plaza on Monday evening, food vendors who were selling shaved ice, corn dogs and other festival food lined the riverfront park, serving people waiting to watch the fireworks. Patrons walked around the plaza with elephant ears, while others sat with their families on the grass on folding chairs and blankets.
Elmer Alexander of Redford Township was there with his wife and daughter waiting for the show to start.
"Normally we're at home watching on TV but my daughter wanted to come down," he said, noting that it was the first time in 10 years they had gone to the riverfront.
"We're gonna watch the fireworks and have a good time.”
For Javon Williams of Detroit, Monday’s show was a return to family traditions that were interrupted by the pandemic. The 17-year-old said he has been going downtown to watch the fireworks for most of his life. Because of the pandemic, they spent the last two years visiting other firework shows in the area, but on Monday, he was back downtown with his aunt and uncle taking in the atmosphere.
"I look forward to seeing everybody together here. It's good for the community to get together, have fun and watch the fireworks," Williams said.
"A lot of people here are from my neighborhood, so I think this gives us a way to come together."
Belle Isle was packed with families gathered for barbecues awaiting the return of the display, now in its 64th year. By 5:30 p.m., the park was at capacity and closed to further visitors.
Emma Davis of Detroit was barbecuing with her family in the afternoon. Before the pandemic location change to the Metropark in Harrison Township, the 76-year-old had been coming to watch the fireworks at Belle Isle for decades.
“We out here with the grandkids, nieces, nephews,” she said. “The last two years we stayed in the house because of COVID. Before COVID, we were doing it every other year here.”
Detroit police Chief James White, in his last media update Monday night, told reporters there were about 18,000 people gathered at Hart Plaza and close to 100,000 people throughout the viewing area, according to initial estimates from the Detroit Police Department.
“Really happy to see the families return downtown,” White said during a press conference at Huntington Place after the show concluded. “COVID is not over but COVID has robbed us of a lot and the last couple years without the fireworks was a big loss for our community."
The department took precautions to ensure safety. In the past, the fireworks has been interrupted by gunfire. In 2017, two shootings injured three people, and in 2015, nine people were injured by gunfire at the event.
This year saw no such issues. White said there weren't any major incidents or any major arrests to report and he cited police preparations beforehand.
"The fireworks have been going on for five decades, and overwhelmingly the community shows up and conducts itself appropriately," he said.
The gun-free zone set up at Hart Plaza drew some police attention. Several people with concealed-carry permits were turned away, White said. There were also a couple of people open carrying, including at least one man with an AR-15 who was barred from Hart Plaza and had to watch the show from across the street.
Earlier Monday, officers and EMS workers patrolled Hart Plaza while security checked bags. Nearby, a Detroit Police Department bus and Mobile Command Center were stationed at the corner of Griswold and West Jefferson.
Taylor resident Ciera Ross took safety into account when deciding where to watch the fireworks. For the last 15 years, Ross had watched the show from Hart Plaza, but because of previous instances of gun violence there, she decided to relocate to Belle Isle this year.
"I came out here with a group of people and my kids (to) be safe. It’s understandable why people are so scared though," said the 34-year-old.
Ross said she agreed with the curfew.
"With so many things going on in the world, children should be with their parents after a certain time," she said. "Gun violence has affected our youth, and it's up to us parents and community to keep them safe."
Youths faced a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. At 8 p.m., the police presence increased downtown. Marzetta Hoskin of Detroit said the curfew made her feel more at ease about bringing her family out for the evening.
"I appreciate it because I have young ones that I can feel comfortable taking out of the house now," said Hoskin. She has two children.
When White was asked at an earlier press briefing how many officers would be on duty at the event, he described it as "a lot. ... All hands are going to be on deck."
"We'll be using the real-time crime center. We’ll be using Eagle Eye, which is a patrol technique to ensure large crowds are safe," White said. "We’ll be using a number of different of pieces of policing and security."
In an effort to curb gun violence at major summer events, including the fireworks, the city spent $1.4 million in bond money to buy 10 mobile weapon detectors. The department is using the next generation of metal detectors from Massachusetts-based Evolv Technology.
The technology processes many times more people than traditional detectors, potentially freeing up officers to provide security away from the machines. The goal is to discourage people from bringing guns to crowded events in the city, and the detectors will be strategically placed where high crowd activity is occurring on a given weekend or at any event being held with a city permit, according to police officials.
Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.