Unsafe and Insane 

YouTube makes bombcrafting easy, an Oakland mom gets sentenced for ecoterrorism, and illegal fireworks blow hands off.

The goateed guy in the cozy bathroom is making an M80. "First thing you need," he tells the video camera while waving a little cardboard cylinder recognizable from standard fireworks booths, "is a Piccolo Pete. You take the fuckin' outside shit off; you know the little wrapper." Tipping the cylinder, he pours powder onto a cutting board: "You see that little white stuff? That little thang that look like crack? ... Next thing you need is a bottle." He shakes a plastic one. "You gotta take all the water out. If there's some water left, your shit is gonna be wack." A message flashes onscreen: "MAKE A SMALL HOLE IN DA CAP."

It's among hundreds of such vids at YouTube, from "how to make a mini rpg" to "how to make a frag grenade" to "how to make a chemical bomb" to "how to make a pipebomb." Their narrators explain where to buy specialized ingredients such as sulphur and powdered aluminum (e.g., "at the garden center"), but most are household staples. Nail-polish remover. Ping-pong balls. Socks. M80s, M100s, and cherry bombs have been banned by the federal government under the Child Protection Act since 1966. Some of the vids feature masked and fatigues-clad men, faces hidden as they expertly cut wire, pour powder, combine chemicals, and tamp. Many are made by children: preteens beaming at the camera as they speak in let-me-help-you tones. In "how to make a flame bomb," a T-shirted middle-schooler at a kitchen table says: "The requirement you need is air freshener, a lighter, aluminum foil. ... I'm sure you know how to make a regular flame torch," he tells the viewer. "But this shit wild." Folded foil crams a slit in the freshener can, which, lit, spurts fire. The boy in "how to make a flame grenade" works atop a washing machine, displaying a plastic film canister, Kleenex, and a bottle of something called Zip: "Hey, guys." His voice hasn't changed yet. "What you'll need is some firestarter. You can get it at Wal-Mart's camping section." In "how to make a chlorine bomb #1," an Australian boy advises: "Alright, guys ... all you need is chlorine crystals that you can get from a pool shop or your local supermarket, sugar, and milk and water." He is handy with funnel, bottle, and spoon. Feel safe out there? You shouldn't.

Big Bang Theory

Homemade explosives and their professionally made, illegally sold, and/or illegally used counterparts sent shuddering booms across the East Bay around July 4, and trigger thousands of injuries and several deaths every year, according tothe US Consumer Product Safety Commission, which charts the casualties. (These too are viewable on YouTube: fingers hanging from hands just by threads.) "Another problem," says the agency's Julie Vallese, "is when consumers purchase professional-grade fireworks" — the big ones meant for municipal displays — "via illegal means from unscrupulous dealers." Under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, possession can result in four-figure fines and prison time. CPSC has formed parnerships within the Chinese government to monitor product quality; more than 97 percent of all fireworks imported into this country come from China, according to the US International Trade Commission. At a Yahoo! Answers forum shortly before July 4, someone asked: "Where can i buy m1000 fireworks?" and received this reply: "go to east oakland or to ur lockal hood there are tones of guys selling them or a lickor store."

Up From Behind

On her neighborhood-watch list, an Oaklander recounts being mugged on 38th Street near Telegraph Avenue on the morning of July 2: "It probably lasted maybe 30 seconds. ... The kid — 16-18 — ran up from behind me and tried to yank my purse from me. He wore a clean white sweatshirt or t-shirt with the hood pulled up. ... He twisted my right wrist pretty good and did hit me across my face. ... Many people rushed from their houses to answer my screams but he'd ... started running. ... I did not get a good look at his face because I was fighting so hard and he knocked off my glasses."

Town of Renown

Is it the heat, its status as the Contra Costa County seat, its oil refinery, or its role as the alleged birthplace of the martini that's been keeping cops so busy in Martinez lately? According to reports, they were summoned on June 30 by someone who reported finding "bowling balls under a shed." Later that day, someone called to report that "he is low on potassium." Cops were called to handle a "tree on fire" on June 29. On June 28, a resident complained about someone "using a duck call at 0230 hours," aka 2:30 a.m. On June 26, a man wearing a Giants hat and shorts was lying "on ground in the middle of street with blender. ... He is breathing."

Plants on Fire

Oakland music teacher Briana Waters, convicted this March of ecoterrorism for involvement in a 2001 Environmental Liberation Front arson fire that destroyed the University of Washington's Urban Horticulture Center — causing more than $6 million in damages — was sentenced last month to six years in prison. Her lawyer had requested one and a half years; the government sought ten. Just before her sentencing, Waters told the court, "I believe I am a valuable and contributing member of society. I don't want to be a martyr to any cause. My cause is to take care of my family," then burst into tears, according to the Seattle Times.


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