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Culture Crash

Louis Sahagun of the Los Angeles Times has written a fascinating piece on Oakland's sideshows. A sideshow, for the uninitiated, is a homegrown version of a demolition derby, except it takes place illegally on city streets - often under the influence of drugs and violence.

On any given Saturday night, the streets of East Oakland are clogged with automobiles blaring loud music and performing dangerous stunts while spectators party on the sidelines. People come from all over Northern California to take part.

Having witnessed these antics below my own bedroom window, I know the annoyance and danger firsthand, but the spectacle has its share of apologists. They believe government has failed to provide "youth" with suitable evening amusement - thus the need for late night hijinks.

The Oakland Police Department - in coordination with the California Highway Patrol - has worked hard to stop this urban insurgency. Controlling convoys of cars in "hyphee" mode is not easy, however, and costs money the city could put to much better use.

Thanks to some recent legislation, the city is taking cars whose drivers are arrested for reckless driving and impounding them for thirty days. But even the temporary loss of a vehicle and a sizeable fine has not slowed the sideshows.

The next step may be to declare the cars a public nuisance and sell them at public auction. In egregious cases, the drivers and their front seat partners might also be charged with conspiracy to commit reckless driving, a felony. There are also some new technologies that might have a role to play in curtailing the sideshows.

The whole sideshow business is a commentary on one aspect of urban life that's often overlooked. Life for working people in low income neighborhoods is tough enough without this aggravation.

March 11, 2005 | Permalink


Jerry, you're the best blogging Mayor in the United States of America. Good leadership. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Give Me Liberty | Mar 11, 2005 1:46:36 PM

Jerry, you're doing a great job but I'd like to address the sideshow issue. Wouldn't it be possible for the City of O to sponsor a "controlled sideshow"? My concept is as follows:

Large vacant parking lot i.e. The Coliseum

$20 to "present" your vehicle and its capabilities. The money is donated to an Oakland-based Youth Group.

A respectable yet non-imposing security presence and some sort of First Aid organization. Just in case...

I'm thinking a "Carnival" like atmosphere with booths that showcase Oakland businesses related to car care. Perhaps some booths for Oakland/Bay Area companies that are hiring ala a Job Fair. A Sideshow Fashion Show?? Booths that represent the various colleges and mechanics schools??

The key is to do this regularly like once a month or once a quarter so that the kids have something to look forward to. Think of a 4-H club setting but instead of animals we are talking cars and motorcycles.

I would love to discuss this in detail with you so feel free to drop me a line.

Best regards,


Posted by: Ren Hoek | Mar 11, 2005 2:57:45 PM

My first thought was similar to that of K.B......

However, my particular suggestions:

1) INTERVIEW some of these kids. Find out what the thrill is. Is it playing cat and mouse with the cops? Is it drugs? Is it underage drinking? Is it just getting together with friends? Is it being rowdy? Is it speed? Is it the "car acrobatics"? Is it all of the above? I would guess the latter. It is obviously easier to solve a problem when the motivations are understood.

2) Find out HOW OFTEN these events occur—I'm sure the police have statistics. And PLAN SANCTIONED / "CONTROLLED" events as a PILOT PROGRAM with the same frequency.

3) ARRANGE A PLACE for the kids to have these events – I was thinking an unused runaway at the airport, if one exists. I've never been to the Coliseum, but if the parking lot is large enough (and won't disturb nearby homeowners/residents), that would suffice. Do not charge a fee per car or have security or first aid there. This will not work in my view. Kids do not want to be supervised. But you definitely need to get the kids off the streets; it is dangerous for Oakland residents.

4) DO NOT have the police MONITOR these events because if the kids are monitored, they will not come. Exception: if the police are called for some reason, they should show up and arrest kids for illegalities.

5) TELL the kids you expect LAWFUL BEHAVIOR at these events, but let me reiterate – In general, DO NOT MONITOR.

6) Most Important: If you allow these "controlled" events, make sure there is NO LIABILITY FOR the City of OAKLAND! Figure out what disclaimers will be provided and how? i.e. Huge sign/billboard (aka artwork) at the event. There would have to be a "buyer beware" type policy; I don't know if this is feasible (legally speaking).

7) CRACK DOWN on anyone caught participating in sideshows who are NOT at the sanctioned location. Stiffen the penalties – I leave that up to you decide what these will be – you have the experience in this area, not me.

Important addendum: I just interviewed my 18 year old daughter Kayla who knows all about these events (news to her antiquated mom!) One of her friends was killed last year in a sideshow-related incident and another drove off a cliff (but lived), several have been injured.

We discussed the above suggestions. Kayla says...And you should listen to her above me:

#1 All reasons pertain except the "cat and mouse with cops." They do not want to get caught.

#2 and # 3 The sanctioned events would have to happen every Friday and Saturday night.

She said, "Food should be provided."
I asked, "You want it catered?"

She said it would be good to find a location with restaurants that are open late (2-3 pm). I suggested the Van Nuys airport for her situation, and she said it might work (despite the lack of food). A fee per car, security, first aid, etc. will not work.

#4 and #5 The sanctioned locations will only work if there is no supervision and kids are unlikely to be arrested for underage drinking. There are no drugs other than pot, she says at these events, at least here in Sherman Oaks. The pilot program would have to be fairly long so it would have time to "catch on" and it should begin just prior to summer – more activity of this sort in the summer.

#7 Kayla also says that increasing penalties WILL WORK. This will stop some kids from participating.

Hope this helps. Good luck.

Posted by: Charlotte | Mar 11, 2005 5:40:29 PM

Mayor Brown,
Perhaps if all newly hired police and fire fighters in the City of Oakland were required to live within this city, we would have more of them around to help keep our streets safe.

Posted by: Endswell | Mar 11, 2005 5:57:41 PM

1]stop kids under 18
2]throw their parents in jail

Posted by: Wallace-Midland, Texas | Mar 11, 2005 9:45:28 PM

I could never imagine that the citizens of Oakland would agree to allow "sideshows" and keep them unsupervised. That is basically what is happening right now and to actually suggest that there should be NO security or first aid(!) is downright criminal!!

Would you knowingly allow your child attend these "sanctioned" events without the possibility of getting medical treatment if they were injured. That would be the most foolhardy thing a parent could do!!

Now tell me why a fee per car wouldn't work if it benefits the youth in their community. Have you seen the rims these guys are riding around on??? There can be up to $5000 worth of shiny metal wrapped in rubber on those cars and that doesn't even take into account the sound systems etc. Now how are you going to explain to me that they can't pony up a coupla greenbacks for the kids so they can have a good time, safely!!

C'mon Mayor Jerry Brown, let's get this show on the road!!

Posted by: Ren Hoek | Mar 11, 2005 11:42:48 PM


Anyone with an once of teen psychological knowledge would understand that "Sideshows" would not agree to ANY conventional endorsement. The forbidden nature of it is the draw. Thus it needs to be addressed just like any other public distrubance to the majority. How it is addressed is the question.

If the news article articulates even 70% factual accuracy, it sounds as if "Sideshow" activity IS a real and ongoing threat to the life and safety of American individuals. This sounds like terrorism. Presently we are going to war over such activity to defend the freedom and rights of American citizens so they may continue to live safely "in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness".

Perhaps tanks need to be added to Oakland's Police Dept. and those prosecuted for participation involving sideshowing, immediately recruited by the Military, trained, ...and sent to Iraq. (Those under 18, retroactive their 18th birthdays.)

Posted by: corrine G. | Mar 12, 2005 5:42:07 AM

Sideshows represent ant-social, anti-environmental and self destructive behaviors. Yet some ignore these realities trying to justifying poor behaviors as "cultural" expression. Might as well add "binge drinking", " crunking" etc. to the list of "acting stupid" behaviors we should accept because we don't have any authority to control it.

The percentage of youth postponing getting drivers licences at 16 continues to grow, kids are making wise choices regarding money, college expenses and alternative transportation. Yet the "apologists" seem fine with promoting a sub-culture burning up cars, cash, drugs, and their health, could it be because sideshows primarily attract kids of color, and any moral judgement of "hip hop" isn't tolerated.

Posted by: laura menard | Mar 12, 2005 9:28:56 AM

If you saction the activities you become responsible. Is the city ready for that liability?

You, my friend, are from the political side of the tracks that has coddled and apologized for the behaviour of these "children" their whole lives. Now the chickens are coming home.

Allowing children to be free of child-rearing did not, after all, produce a generation of happy, carefree, uncomplicated, altruistic and creative people. The experiment seems to suggest that a great deal of what we think of as "human nature" in the best sense - compassion, fairness, conscience - is, in fact taught. We had always assumed that guilt and remorse were a natural consequence of doing wrong, but judges now are encountering legions of young criminals who have no such feelings.

Judith Martin Miss Manners Rescues Civilization

Posted by: jreid | Mar 12, 2005 11:06:27 AM

Response to K.B./Ren...

To "medical aid should be provided," Kayla's response is: "We have cell phones. We could call an ambulance."

To a $20 per car fee: "We will not go if we have to pay."

To any kind of adult supervision: "No one would show up. They'd just go someplace else."

Kayla says the main interests in these sideshows are seeing friends, music, food, and alcohol. One of these otherwise harmless activities is illegal, but only in the U.S.; alcohol is not per se a deadly activity and is entirely legal in Europe and all other developed countries for over 18s.

All teenagers go through the "rites of passage" – most engage in some kind of risky behavior. In the 1970's, kids had a place to go which provided drugs, alcohol, sex, food and dangerous activities -- it was called Vietnam

As a teen, my ex-husband traveled alone across the Sahara desert and into the Congo, was held at gunpoint, imprisoned, robbed, survived many perilous adventures.

At the age of 16, I tiptoed out of the house and traveled from Atlanta to Chicago and New York without telling my parents about this "vacation." My hotel caught fire the first night, and I remember walking through the NYC streets alone and barefoot at three in the morning.

The really dangerous sideshow activity is related to cars. Kayla says the kids search for the most confined street possible so as to avoid detection. The injuries/deaths of her friends stem from crashing into parked vehicles, walls, etc. – something that would not be an issue in a huge parking lot or on an unused airport runway. Not that I advocate racing cars, but it is better to do so on an airport runway than off a cliff or into a tree or pedestrian.

You ask...would I let my daughter attend the sanctioned events? Yes, if she was careful and did not engage in illegal activity. I trust her; she does not drink, do drugs, etc., but she will "hang out" with friends (something over which I have no control), and at times those around her will behave in "risky" or unlawful ways.

Government cannot sanction illegal behavior or set aside a public place for the commission of a crime; however, it can provide a relatively safe place for kids to gather. The question is...Are sideshows so severely dangerous that drastic measures are needed?

I acknowledge that both of our ideas are probably unworkable, but there seem only two options: 1) increase penalties or 2) increase penalties plus find a safer place for kids to "hang out."

I am new to "blogging" and perceive it as a brainstorming opportunity. I appreciate the sincere effort people make to solve problems and explore new ideas.

It is also an experiment for me. I told my Council I would report back with my findings...as to whether blogging might be something we would want to set up for our community, whether it is valuable for gaining insights, listening to stakeholders/constituents, and forming policy. So far it is interesting, to say the least.

Posted by: Charlotte | Mar 12, 2005 11:19:00 AM

If you saction the activities you become responsible. Is the city ready for that liability?

You, my friend, are from the political side of the tracks that has coddled and apologized for the behaviour of these "children" their whole lives. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

Allowing children to be free of child-rearing did not, after all, produce a generation of happy, carefree, uncomplicated, altruistic and creative people. The experiment seems to suggest that a great deal of what we think of as "human nature" in the best sense - compassion, fairness, conscience - is, in fact taught. We had always assumed that guilt and remorse were a natural consequence of doing wrong, but judges now are encountering legions of young criminals who have no such feelings.

Judith Martin Miss Manners Rescues Civilization

Posted by: jreid | Mar 12, 2005 11:24:27 AM

Check out my article, "Time for a New Crime Strategy in Oakland."

Posted by: Endswell | Mar 12, 2005 6:32:23 PM

I was both a Thursday Night Cruiser and a Saturday Night Cruiser-Drag Racer and all of us did those things for one reason: GIRLS. The sharper the car the sluttier the girl attracted to same. Nothing has changed since the old days when young guys used to show off their horses on the main streets of Western Towns.

Answer to problem: Arrest all the Girls in Oakland and the surrounding cities.

No need to thank me.

Posted by: Howard Veit | Mar 13, 2005 4:12:17 AM


Let me see if I got this right.
You call these 'sideshows', "a homegrown version of a demolition derby, except it takes place illegally on city streets - often under the influence of drugs and violence."

You also mention that, "Having witnessed these antics below my own bedroom window, I know the annoyance and danger firsthand..."

Sounds pretty straight forward. Seize the cars (permanently), suspend the driver's licenses, hefty fines for individuals and if they're juveniles, their parents, and some hefty jail time.
Then prioritize the police on this for a while.
I'll bet after some highly publicized cases with stiff penalties, that you see a drop in this type of crap.

Nothing and I repeat nothing gives anyone the right to recklessly endanger the lives of other citizens. Let alone without their knowledge or consent. What's next? Downtown combat zones for youth gun fights?

You are right in that working class folks have enough to deal with, without this extra layer of bulls**t in their lives.

As for the perhaps well meaning (but I doubt it) though amazingly stupid people who, "believe government has failed to provide "youth" with suitable evening amusement..."

I've got some news. It's not the government's job to provide entertainment.
Let the handwringers host these clowns in their homes for nightly parties.

I suspect that these hypocrites would be the first to call the cops if this was happening in their neighborhood.

Posted by: Tim P | Mar 13, 2005 3:21:08 PM

Based on news reports I've seen most of the "Sideshow" participants are not teenagers. They are adults. They should be mature enough to realize that thair activity is making the lives of people who live in the affected neighborhoods miserable.
I don't understand why the city should be an enabler of criminal activity. If these people (many of whom do not live in Oakland) want a place for demolition derby they should rent it. Doing these things on city streets is criminal and there should be penalties, including fines that would pay for police oveertime.

Posted by: Jana Lane | Mar 13, 2005 5:15:39 PM

"What's next? Downtown combat zones for youth gun fights?

If you watch the accompanying video link on LAT website, you'll see that this is about a half-step from complete anarchy.

This is a completely out of control situation and when Mayor Brown referred to it as an "insurgency," I'd say he's right. Not sure what kind of resources the Oakland Police Dept, Sheriffs Dept and CHP have available but if in-fact this is/were an insurgency, then all available assets should be commited.

Stiff penalties, massive arrests with jail-time, while a drain on the system and certainly no cure to societies ills, offer the only apparent solution to what appears to me to be a group of nihilists getting "crunk."

Again, it's not the governments job to offer "24 to 37" (!) year olds something to do at 4AM on a Saturday night.

Certainly all involved aren't equally culpable, though they face the same dangers as the idiot standing in the middle of the street, but I'm sure if you were somehow able to get a "census" of the involved parties, I doubt you'd find the creme of Oaklands crop there.

Domestic terrorists.

Posted by: shakur23x | Mar 14, 2005 3:25:01 AM

Sadly, the legal liability of the city of Oakland hosting organized "sideshows" would be so expensive as to preclude the subject from further discussion. ]
Whether people would go or not is irrelevant. The first person hurt would sue the city for whatever multi-millions the city council hasn't already hand delivered to Al Davis.
The situation has been OUT OF CONTROL FOR YEARS. While OPD management and officers are more concerned with MAXIMIZING THEIR OVERTIME than fighting crime.
Sadly, we need National Guard armored personnel carriers at checkpoints throughout east oakland, not city sponsored sideshows.

Posted by: bobdobbs | Mar 15, 2005 1:19:45 PM

Here's a good new technolgy that the Police can use to help stop the antics: Caltrops.

Posted by: Richard Miles | Mar 16, 2005 2:25:32 PM

Jerry's tough guy rhetoric about side-shows and parolees is a distraction from his all around failure to improve Oakland.

50% of Oakland schools finished in the bottom 10% percentile in statewide rankings of California Public schools, according to today's Tribune. It's getting even worse under the leadership of superindendent Randy Ward, yet Jerry remains totally silent on the CURRENT CRISIS which may end up with a demoralizing teacher's strike, privatized schools and a shutdown of the adult education program.

Where are you Jerry?

Anyone remember, that one of Jer's 4 point platform for Oakland was to fix the schools? I remember. Six years-- the schools are even worse. On your watch Jer.

Posted by: Drydock | Mar 16, 2005 8:11:29 PM

Mayor Brown,
I urge you not to waste more precious time and human life attacking "apologists" all the time and others who are looking for solutions.

Please do what you feel is best to stop the sideshow menace--by all means confiscate the cars of repeat and extreme offenders. And those engaged in "egregious" activities, charge them with felonies. I'm in full support of this.

We need a strong deterrent. To date, the fines and impoundments have not been working. The estimated police overtime according to the Oakland Tribune of these sideshows is $l8 million. Oakland's reported budget deficit for 2005-2006 is $30 million plus. Isn't $l8 million in police overtime enough tax dollars being hemorraged to warrant action?

If you want to get elected to the position of attorney general, demonstrate that toughness and "metal". Please end the sideshow menace immediately and put an end to wasteful government spending.

And when you are elected to the attorney general position, please implement this policy in all areas of the state.

Lawlessness and drinking problems are growing among our state's youth in both urban and more rural areas with the advent of all the ALV's, dirtbikes, minibikes, motorized water recreational vehicles and all the other technological menaces being promoted in the marketplace today that are largely unregulated and mainly nuisance vehicles destructive both of human life and the environment.

Show what you are made out of Jerry.

Posted by: val | Mar 17, 2005 12:52:19 AM

I forgot to mention I don't think you should confine conspiracy charges just to front seat passengers.

Please check into the DUI program Trinity County Sherriffs are presently adopting--taking any underage minor at a party where alcohol is being served directly to jail and calling their parents.

Perhaps something similar could be adopted (albeit less draconian-how many felonies and conspiracies are going to be racked up here?)for backseat drivers who are drinking in a "sideshow" automobile as well. At least taking them to jail immediately. And the parents who are the enablers? Should we forget them? Maybe we could have them all serve mandatory community sentences in hospitals taking care of those enjured in sideshows are re-building for free smashed fences and pounding out dented and smashed cars of innocent victims.

Shouldn't we also consider closing more or ALL of the al-night liquor stores of which they are dozens in the flatland neigbhorhoods where the sideshows occur? Where booze is sold to minors all the time and readily available to the 24/7ers?

Let's deal with all the "enablers" so to speak. The parents, the liquor store purveyors, the car manufacturers of loud boom boxes, the flashy wheel manufacturers, the scooter and minibike manufactuers--all the purveyors of the quick and cheap thrills that are constantly held out to kids--life in the "fast lane".

And, to the pundit who advocated locking up all the "slutty girls" who are luring these young men to the cities, if we just locked up the young men preventatively or put them under nighttime curfew, they wouldn't have to come out at all.
But if they do, we should not discriminate. Equality in arrests-boys, girls, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles--let's consider the entire extended families.

A tough law and order program means incarceration for more people.

And accountability means going after everyone equally. Let's not sell all the goodies--shove them into people's faces every night on TV and say
"see how the rich can drive their fast Lexus" but say you cannot drive your cheap Chevies and Fords.

Let's not pretend that the come hither gals are only on the streets and not dressed as skimpily as the FCC allows on TV, on the internet, and that degradation of women through pornography is the possibly the biggest industry next to drugs now. Is there any Hollywood actress who doesn't have to literally bare her breasts or buttocks these days to make a movie?

Let's be consistent and when we talk about "values" and accountability and responsbiilty, let's extend them to those whose profits come exactly from the objectification and degradation of women.

Don't blame the kids when it's the adults selling it to them 24/--sex, alcohol, drugs, you name it, Hollywood and Madison Avenue carries it all.

And those who want to make moral judgments, well, this is the site to do it. Say it all. Let's not be shy or coy now.--Mayor Brown is first and foremost a champion of free speech--3 cheers for Jerry Brown!

And spare me moral hypocrites who secretly "feast" on the internet.

Posted by: val | Mar 17, 2005 12:26:57 PM

Sideshows -

With the systematic dismantling of biblical ethics from the curriculum of Public Education by the Government, is it any wonder that the morals of America's youth has disintegrated to such a state where stealing cars and running them into one another has become the new pastime of Oakland's youth?

Look at Oakland! This city should be held up to be the "poster child" of Government programs gone awry. We have lived (and have been taxed) to fund Government's utopian dreams of bring "affordable housing" and "programs" to the inner city. Look at the bitter fruits of Government social programs. Look at the Government's programs to reduce crime and drug abuse. If you want to take a look at the benefits of these programs, just head to the sideshows of East Oakland and ask the participants if "Head Start", "WIC", "Section 8 housing" were effective in them achieving the "American Dream"?

I do not miss the irony of the former Governor of California and the current Mayor of Oakland seeing firsthand the results of taxpayer-funded social engineering programs and the bitter fruit these efforts have cultivated.

Posted by: Dr. Jorge Rantera | Mar 18, 2005 2:15:37 PM

Dr. Rantera (That wouldn't be PH.D. in political science?)

Not everyone who participates in Headstart, WIC, lives in HUD housing is a sideshow participant. In fact, the Congresswoman who fought for the free lunch school program for children in the l950's was a Minnesota Congresswoman named Ms. Knudson who was concerned about the plight of poor farm children.

Your reasoning is illogical and convoluted. As for "social experiments", I doubt that's why these programs were enacted in the first place. And, an aside, aren't you a beneficiary of one or more government programs yourself such as social security, pre-paid health care, unemployment and disability benefits? All programs that came out of the struggle of working people.

The "Great Society" programs came about after cities across America burned. They were Pres. Johnson's legacy to try to equalize and mitigate the inequities of life that poor black people from the South, forced off from the land, found themselves facing when they moved North to the big cities. Leaving the South did not mean leaving discrimination--black people faced discrimination up North in housing, jobs, unions, government work, etc.

Younger people today don't seem to realize that all the doors that open came because people struggled for these programs which many take for granted.

Now I know there are government workers, attorneys, doctors, lawyers, and even politicians who make handsome salaries who rob (the white collar way)steal, and commit crimes too. Does that mean we should take away their benefits and their licenses? How about those who received college Pell grants? They may not be nuisances to people living in Oakland neighbors, but when they clean you out and bankrupt you they also cause an individual and family a great deal of pain, grief and suffering.

If we apply your unsound reasoning and ahistorical point of view, then anyone who committs any crime should have any and all benefits taken away.

Is this what you are advocating?

Posted by: Oldtimer | Mar 23, 2005 9:26:41 PM

Sideshow participants are not teenagers, they are adults. Some as old as 30-something. It is teenagers who watch the sideshow. The participants have enough money to afford expensive, high performance cars, that is, if the cars aren't stolen. Women have been sexually assaulted, there have been a few deaths and some murders. How low will people stoop to rationalize this outrageous behavior? People who condone the sideshow are saying that the people who live in the neighborhoods where the sideshow occurs are expected to live with the noise, the disruption, and the violence. That's awfully generous of you.

Posted by: Kris Rocks | Mar 27, 2005 5:17:03 PM

I agree with you Kris.

I live in an area of Oakland which has the sideshow most weekends when weather permits. I live in an area which has had three homicides related to the sideshow with two of them in my police beat.

This past weekend, a police car window was shot out and there were two other shootings. The sideshow has gone beyond socializing and has evolved into an excuse for absolute lawlessness. Unless you live here, you can't imagine the amount of people, cars, and associated garbage after an event. One Fourth of July weekend, we've had OVER 700 individuals carousing around ONE intersection. It was madness and the police could do nothing.

Find a legitimate place for this behavior. I think not. It has got to end. People are getting killed, homes are getting wrecked, people are moving, and businesses are closing because they've had cars damage the buildings too many times. I know people who have had their business crashed into three times within one year.

Jerry, raise the fines. Impound the cars for good (once convicted). We should be allowed to have peace and quiet.

Posted by: Living in East Oakland | Mar 29, 2005 11:24:13 AM

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