Shifting Gears in Bid to Halt Recklessness

Times Staff Writer

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown proposed tougher laws Friday to curb nightly displays of reckless driving called "sideshow" that have resulted in eight deaths and hundreds of arrests over the last year.

At a news conference, Brown said he had introduced a "spectator ordinance" that would criminalize sideshow attendance.

"If no one was watching, there wouldn't be a sideshow," he said. "We have to get the dangerous drivers — and the dangerous spectators who cheer on their violence and mayhem."

The City Council is expected to consider the ordinance June 7. If it is adopted, convicted sideshow spectators could face a fine of $500 for a first offense. A third offense could result in a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.

Sideshow is a uniquely Oakland phenomenon — a chance for drivers, almost exclusively young men, to perform elaborate stunts in their cars, often with hip-hop music blaring from their stereos.

The events start out as late-night caravans of up to 100 cars that speed through major thoroughfares, picking up participants along the way.

From midnight to dawn, spectators gather at intersections to watch the exhibitions of driving maneuvers, such as spinning in circles while passengers — and sometimes drivers — hang out of open car doors.

"It's a bizarre ritual that became a part of the night culture, and it's hard to root out," Brown said.

At his request, the Alameda County district attorney's office has begun imposing a special driving curfew on people convicted of sideshow-related crimes. Under its terms, those people are barred from driving city streets Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

The strategies are a response to mounting demands for more protection from residents of neighborhoods that sideshow activity has hit hard.

"At Oakland community meetings, sideshows are a major topic," said city spokesman Gil Duran. "Some residents have asked for the National Guard to roll over them with tanks."

"Who can blame them?" Duran added. "We're talking about reckless drugged driving accompanied by occasional deadly mayhem."

During a dozen crackdown operations last summer, police wrote 3,000 citations and towed more than 1,400 cars, said Oakland Police Traffic Cmdr. David Kozicki.

Last weekend, a 19-year-old San Pablo man was killed after his car crashed into a wall while fleeing police trying to break up a drag race and sideshow event, authorities said.

"We will have double the number of police out on patrol during Memorial [Day] weekend," Duran said. "And by July 4 weekend, the police will have the new spectator ordinance to work with."

But Yapasua Zazaboi, whose company has been making sideshow videos for five years under the brand name Sydewayze, said the crackdown is excessive and unfair.

"Nothing is going to stop sideshow in Oakland; it's a whole culture," Zazaboi said. "Are these new laws going to stop it? No. Are they going to put a lot of people in jail? Yes."

For more on Oakland's sideshows, go to sideshow.

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