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Oakland police prepare to crack down on sideshows

on April 26, 2019

The Oakland Police Department (OPD) has increased its response following recent sideshow activity. Last Sunday, a large contingent of law enforcement officers took the streets to combat the illegal gatherings, which are informal demonstrations of automotive stunts, often held in vacant lots or in public intersections. This weekend, they will do the same. Officers will be accompanied by air support along with regional law enforcement partners, teaming up to deter sideshow participation by issuing citations, making arrests and towing vehicles.

Oakland Police Department Public Information Officer Felicia Aisthorpe said increased will be used as needed to keep community members safe. “It’s sad when you see other people’s lives are disrupted because of one group that wants to shut down all lanes of traffic so they can spin doughnuts and play music,” said Aisthorpe. “You have other people that may have to go to work.”

Or, she said, if police are called to a nearby emergency, “That can cause us to be delayed because roads are blocked.”

Sideshows first emerged in East Oakland in the 1980’s. Participants use their vehicles to spin around doing doughnuts or to “ghost ride,” a stunt which is performed when a person exits their moving vehicle and dances beside or around it. 

“The City of Oakland recognizes that illegal sideshow activity is not unique to Oakland,” OPD officials said in a statement released early this morning. “This is a regional issue that affects our neighborhoods, businesses and the quality of life. Historically, illegal sideshow activity has led to serious injury or death of spectators and or participants.”

The police department’s most recent enforcement response came after a sideshow occurred on the previous Sunday, on April 14 at 42ndAvenue and International Boulevard. According to an OPD media advisory, at approximately 8:30 pm, members of the sideshow crowd surrounded a commercial transport truck and an AC Transit bus. The driver of the truck was forced out at gunpoint and truck was set on fire. The AC Transit bus’s windows were broken out and the bus was also set on fire.

As police officers attempted to clear the area so the Oakland Fire Department could extinguish the fire, gunshots were heard from the crowd, delaying their response. It took until 10 pm for the area to be cleared and both fires extinguished. Neither the bus or truck drivers were injured, but an Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Deputy suffered a serious leg injury during the incident. Officers also issued close to 200 citations, towed numerous vehicles and recovered several firearms, according to the OPD’s statement.

“It was completely out of control,” said District 5 Councilmember Noel Gallo, who grew up in the Fruitvale/San Antonio District and represents the area that includes the site of the sideshow. “There’s no justification for doing that as well as destroying our streets, and putting those people that are viewing and participating in the sideshow at a terrible safety risk.”

Gallo said that most sideshows have moved away from neighborhoods to business corridors and often take place in broad daylight. He said most of the sideshow activity comes from people who live outside of Oakland – and keeps growing in the process.

“It has become a liability,” said Gallo. “It’s a safety issue for those of us who are trying to follow the rules here in the City of Oakland. And that’s the bottom line.”

In February, Assembly Bill 410, or AB 410, was introduced by Los Angeles Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian. The bill seeks to punish those who participate in sideshows with a misdemeanor and a $10,000 fine. On top of that, their vehicles could be impounded for 30 days. A second violation would lead to a felony and a $25,000 fine. The bill was scheduled to be discussed in Sacramento on April 23 by the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee. But the hearing was postponed, so the legislature has not yet brought it to a vote.

Gallo, who is in support of the bill, said it’s a matter of time until innocent bystanders get hurt. “Sooner or later, one of those cars are going to spin out of control,” said Gallo. “A car is going to run into and kill people, and guess what’s going to happen after that? They are going to sue the City of Oakland for not stopping the sideshow.”

A few years ago, Gallo stated, he and sideshow participants spoke with racetrack directors in Sonoma County about using racetracks to have sideshows, and collecting a fee for insurance to cover the safety risk. Other options were exploring using space at the Coliseum and the Port of Oakland for safe, controlled sideshow gatherings. But so far, none of those ideas have become plans.

Gallo said that its time for sideshows to stop causing safety issues for the city. “We done that for too many years here in Oakland,” said Gallo. “We have got to stop, move on, and create a city that we all can enjoy.” 

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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