I don’t want to seem picky about this, I really don’t, but could someone tell me the difference between an impromptu sideshow, an illegally staged sideshow, a sideshow of a sideshow, and a regular old sideshow?

On Sunday two weeks ago, Glenn Chapman of the Tribune wrote that two spectators were shot the night before at a sideshow "illegally staged in the West Oakland BART station parking lot." But by the following Tuesday, Tribune reporter Tiffani Analla was calling the BART activity an "impromptu sideshow." I thought all of them were "impromptu," that is, spontaneous gatherings, pulled together on-the-spot, with a sort of loose core that engages and disengages depending upon who is around, and who wants to do what.

And, of course, it was earlier this year that a headline in the Tribune blamed the closing of Jack London Square’s Oak Tree Grill on the sideshows, while the story itself said the cause was a "sideshow of a sideshow," whatever in the world that is.

So the question is, what is the Oakland Tribune’s and the Oakland Police Department’s definition of a sideshow?

This is more than just a semantic question. Oakland’s sideshow policy is based partly on the assertion that the late-night auto gatherings are magnets for illegal activity. City officials have already been citing the February death of 22 year old U’Kendra Johnson as one reason to crack down on the sideshows, even though police have failed to release information to show that her death was sideshow-related. Now, we can expect Oakland officials to quote the figures released by OPD Traffic Operations Commander Dave Kozicki, who told the Tribune that 300 citations were issued, 100 cars were towed, and 29 arrests were made (12 for drunken driving) during last weekend’s sideshow crackdown.

But without any idea of what constitutes a sideshow in the police department’s eyes, how do we know that the police didn’t set up roadblocks and roving patrols all over East Oakland, stop (young African-American and Mexican-American) drivers who they happened to see, and then simply add up all the statistics and blame it on some illegal, impromptu gathering?

I’d ask the police department directly, but the public information department seems to be awfully backed up these days. Three and a half months, they still haven’t answered my questions about circumstances surrounding the death of U’Kendra Johnson.


You ever sit down and try to weigh the balance…how much Jerry Brown’s presence helps Oakland’s future development, against how much his public trashing of the city does us damage?

Add this one to your equation: last week’s Jerry Brown column in the
San Francisco Chronicle by conservative national columnist George Will, also found in the internet editions of the Sacramento Bee, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jewish World Review, the Washington Post…well, you get the picture.

In his column, Will repeated a 1998 Jerry Brown quote about downtown Oakland: "You have a concentrated, homogenous population—the elderly, parolees, people in drug rehab, from mental hospitals, transients. This is not the vibrant civic culture some might have in mind."

Brown made the remark just after the 1998 mayoral campaign, when he was defending his 10K "plan." They’re probably going to be sitting dozens of websites for however long the internet lasts, waiting for a web search of "Oakland" AND "Jerry Brown." Let us presume that four years from now, Jerry Brown will choose not to seek re-election. Out of all those big-money investors who might have come to Oakland only because Jerry Brown is mayor, how many do you think will still consider coming once Jerry Brown is gone?

This is especially bad, considering that Brown’s remarks are flat-out wrong.

Given the Mayor’s wide definition of downtown Oakland (from West Grand to the Embarcadero), there is a large portion of the downtown area that is vibrant and alive, with a diverse population, full of homes and schools and shops and shoppers and restaurants and banks and supporting small businesses, old people and young, bustling all day and late into the night, all weekend, too, a model for the downtown live-work mix that Jerry Brown keeps saying he’s going to "create." It’s already there. Go south on Broadway from City Hall until you get to 10th or 9th streets, hang a left, and you’ll run into it.

It’s called Chinatown.

Originally Published June 26, 2002 in URBANVIEW Newspaper, Oakland, CA