OAKLAND—At 1:30 on a recent Saturday morning, a caravan of 60 cars and vans barreled through this city’s gritty east side, running red lights and stop signs. Some drivers weaved in and out of their lanes, dodging oncoming traffic at the last second.
Moments later, three cars collided, the wreckage spattered with engine fluids, blood and brandy. Though some people stopped to help the injured—or to grab stereo equipment—most raced on.
They had to get to the “sideshow,” a dangerous and illegal frenzy of speeding and acrobatic driving perhaps best described as vehicular break dancing.
Virtually every night, from midnight to dawn, hundreds of young people gather at intersections throughout this city to watch cars spin and swerve wildly, the drivers and passengers often dangling halfway out of open doors as the vehicles burn rubber. Some drivers like to spew sparks by wearing their tires down to the steel belts.
The people of Oakland have survived epidemic drug use, soaring murder rates and police corruption scandals, but now they face an increasingly violent homegrown movement that has police chasing one spontaneous driving exhibition after another at a cost of $500,000 a year.
Oakland police have cracked down hard on sideshow in the past, most notably in 2002 after 22-year-old U’Kendra Johnson was killed in a sideshow-related accident. But sustaining those crackdowns has taxed department resources. Maintaining them year round, officials say, simply isn’t possible.