Popularity and Dangers of Sideshows: Will Latest Police Crackdown Work?

by Lee Benson

After three people were shot at an East Oakland sideshow last weekend, Oakland police said they would crack down, once again, on the long-standing popular phenomenon, which inspires rap lyrics such as Macaroni Time by Chief Keef.

It’s clear from interviews with students at McClymonds that as dangerous as sideshows may be, they attract youths because they feature drag racing, stunts such as donuts, souped up cars, and rowdy crowds. “It’s dangerous but exciting,” said James Smith, a junior. “And then there’s not much else to do at night in West Oakland,” said Kelton Reynolds, a sophomore.

Even community workers agree. Olis Simmons, president and CEO of Youth Uprising, told reporters that  youths in Oakland need positive alternatives to sideshows, but she does not have the resources to keep her neighborhood youth center open past 8 p.m.

In West Oakland, the city recently finished building a youth center on Market Street, but lacks the $190,000 for programming.

Alternatives In Action staff member Shelley Smith feels there are many alternatives, until 6 p.m. at the youth center at McClymonds.  “Kids have many different options of activities to do afterschool.  Some play games like pool and air hockey, some go to the studio and record music, and some chill and eat snacks.”

At night, however, there are no alternatives, community workers say. “(We need) to actually think creatively like some of our sister cities like  San Diego and think about other ways that we can actually redirect this energy,” Simmons said.

Energy does flow at sideshows. Spinning cars whirr, the rubber of tires burn, and crowds cheer. 

The chaos can be scary, students said. Tyanna Jackson, a senior at McClymonds High School says that, ” I have been to one on International but I will never go again. Side shows are crazy, cars are in the intersection doing donuts and often there is at least one person who is injured or worse. At this one, people began to shoot at each other.”

Most sideshows are impromptu. They move to another area if police appear, even West Oakland, which is smaller and easier to patrol than East Oakland, says Jacob Miles, a junior. “I went to a side show on 12th and Adeline, and somebody started shooting like ten minutes into the show,” he said.  “Everybody ran and that was my last time going to a side show.”

Students would prefer not to have to run. Desean Nelson, a junior at McClymonds High School said,” It doesn’t make any sense that people can’t just go to an event and have fun without having to worry about getting hit by bullets.” He added,  “The world that we live in is getting too sick and this unnecessary violence needs to stop.”

In the meantime, Oakland interim police Chief Sean Whent announced several strategies, including having police and CHP officers at popular spots for sideshows. Police launched a similar crackdown in 2010, increasing fines and ticketing spectators. It was unsuccessful.

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