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Sideshow fire

Recent sideshow violence spurs Oakland City Council to consider new restrictions

on May 10, 2023

After alarming videos from Oakland sideshows were posted recently on social media, the Public Safety Committee agreed Tuesday to put a proposal for stricter sideshow penalties on next Tuesday’s City Council agenda.  

In December, the council rejected councilmember Noel Gallo’s  proposed ordinance that would penalize organizers and bystander participants in the shows. The council also rejected Gallo’s modifications  to the proposal that focused on “organizers and facilitators” of sideshows. His latest proposal would make being an organizer or a facilitator a misdemeanor, allowing for fines and penalties, and also allowing civil action against those individuals.

This month has been tumultuous for Oakland, with two violent sideshow activities that have shocked the city.

In early May, videos emerged on social media showing a man throwing an orange plastic bucket at a white car performing doughnuts in broad daylight at 34th and Adeline streets. Then the car’s passengers chase the man, beating him up and leaving him unconscious, while a crowd of people record the assault on their phones. As the car is still spinning doughnuts, someone puts the bucket over the man’s head and takes a picture of him.

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao issued a statement saying she was “outraged” by the assault and demanding “the perpetrators of this senseless act of violence be held accountable.”

The Oakland Police Department said it was investigating. The department also took to social media with a post dissuading people from approaching sideshow participants.

“Please don’t engage with individuals participating in the sideshow. Do not try to stop the sideshow. Do not risk your life,” the post reads.

In the second incident, on May 5, a car is set on fire during a sideshow near 10th and Oak streets. Then people take turns ramming a car into the burning car multiple times. The second car also ends up burning, the video shows. 

According to police, at least 250 vehicles participated in the second sideshow and nearly 80 vehicles were seized.

The City Council has been divided over finding a practical solution to deter sideshows without criminalizing the activity, which is part of Oakland culture

Three Oakland residents spoke during the Public Safety Committee meeting, all advocating for tougher laws against sideshows.

One resident called the revised ordinance a “little flimsy thing” that would not  solve the issue.

Klaus Zelinskis, agreed, saying, “In spite of numerous laws already on the books that were violated, today, we’re being offered a weak and tepid ordinance that penalizes only the promoters.”

Carolyn Burgess slammed the ordinance for not including sideshow spectators.

“The spectator is an enabler,” Burgess said. “Do you think these kids would show up and spin donuts if nobody was watching them, cheering them on, taking pictures, making them famous on social media,” she asked.

Councilmember Carroll Fife, who has been against sideshow ordinances, is seeking alternative ways to have legal sideshows in assigned places. 

In late April, she said she was working with the Oakland – Alameda Coliseum Joint Powers Agency Commission and the African American Sports & Entertainment Group on a “sideshow pilot program,” which she did not expand on. Apparently, it would  lay the groundwork for sanctioned sideshow activities at the Coliseum complex.

Fife did not return Oakland North’s calls for more information about the proposal.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Gallo reiterated that he and sideshow activists had tried to find a place for legal sideshows but their efforts failed, as they could not reach an agreement on the terms of sanctioned sideshows. 

“Some of the promoters wanted to do it a certain way, whenever they wanted to, how they wanted to, and didn’t want to be held responsible for the liability,” Gallo said. 

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, Public Safety Committee chair, said any sideshow solution would have more than one component. 

“We need all the components,” Kaplan said. “We do need positive alternatives to encourage people, and we need to deal with the folks who are profiting by selling risk and danger into our community.”

After a first reading of Gallo’s proposed ordinance at the May 16 City Council meeting, it will be put on the council’s June 6 agenda.

This story was updated to include the council’s May 16 action.

Top image taken from a Twitter video of car ramming a burning vehicle during an Oakland sideshow in May 2023. (Sobhan Hassanvand)

As sideshows escalate, residents turn to Oakland Council, which can’t agree on crackdown

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