Jeff Coulter, head of the Reclaim the Block neighborhood-watch group in Capitol Hill, didn’t need to go looking for trouble on Wednesday, June 25. By 10 p.m., it had come to him: a barrage of firecrackers, including what he assumes were cherry bombs, detonated on his lawn and car in the 600 block of 14th Street NE.

It was the first half of a two-pronged attack by neighborhood teens, who were operating in a group of 10 to 20. Later that night, they moved next door to the Pierce School, where business partners Chris Swanson and Jeff Printz—also Reclaim the Block members—are living on the third floor as they convert the building into residential lofts. There, the kids dropped rounds of firecrackers into the developing company’s pickup truck. When Swanson and Printz came to the open windows around 2 a.m. and confronted them, the kids fired bottle rockets at them from the street.

“They would come towards us and then swerve off,” says Swanson. “They’re not exactly RPGs.”

Neighbors can’t say exactly when the conflict began. But after a two-day campaign of pyrotechnic attacks, the battle between Reclaim the Block and unruly teens has reached, in Printz’s words, “comical proportions.”

Nicole Hamam, another member of the watch group, says she was marked two days before the others. She was holding a family dinner on Monday, June 23, at her house to celebrate her recent marriage when, around 5 p.m., she and her guests started hearing sporadic firecrackers.

The sounds gradually moved closer to her house until finally, Hamam says, kids were tossing the explosives into her garden. “At that point, I knew it was personal,” she says. And as her guests, including grandparents, were leaving, Hamam says, kids threw fireworks at the fleeing cars.

“The gumption I don’t understand,” Hamam says. “They’re fearless.” While she and her husband, Steve Morrison, were confronting them that night, some kids lit firecrackers and dropped them at their feet.

Coulter, who works out of his home for Kaplan Test Prep, founded Reclaim the Block last year. The effort drew neighbors frustrated with what they perceived to be illegal activity at three unoccupied buildings on the block, including alleged drug dealing, underage drinking, trespassing, dice-shooting, and vandalism.

Local teens argue that they have lived in the area for years and now newcomers are trying to run them out. Increased calls to the police and open confrontations between kids and residents have escalated tensions, Coulter says. Police, who residents say have been largely unresponsive, have recommended placing “No Trespassing” signs on the unoccupied buildings. After a rash of complaints, the department recently increased patrols on the block.

Coulter has tried hanging signs. On June 28, he placed—not for the first time—a “No Trespassing” sign on one of the buildings, hanging it above a first-floor window. Waking to the sound of firecrackers that night at 3 a.m., he walked out to his front steps and watched as one youth climbed up the gas meter and, dangling from the window bars, untied the wire holding the sign and dropped it to the ground. Coulter says he called 911 but received no police response.

John, an 18-year-old local fireworks enthusiast who asked that his last name not be used, says everything was fine until a new crop of residents started moving in a couple of years ago. “There weren’t any problems until they got here,” he says, chewing on a straw and bouncing on his scooter. “They try to come in and take over.” As for the fireworks, he says it’s just holiday fun. “I ain’t gonna lie. We light them off,” he says. “But we do give them respect. We stop at midnight.”

John says he and his friends purchase their fireworks from a man who sells them out of his car. Although some forms of firecrackers can be sold at authorized stands, certain types of fireworks, such as bottle rockets or cherry bombs, are illegal in the District, according to Officer J.D. Strassman, who was working the block June 30 as part of an increased patrol.

Along with the patrols has come a respite. “It’s stopped for now,” says Coulter. “It’s as if they ran out.”

Apparently, he’s right. “We’ve been out [of fireworks] for two days,” says John. “If our guy comes by, we’ll have them. If not, we won’t.”

They might have them regardless. A block away, at the corner of Maryland Avenue and H Street NE, stands an empty plywood shack that residents say was just erected. It’s topped with red-white-and-blue bunting and a plastic banner: “Discount Fireworks. TNT Sold Here.” CP