SO WHAT'S THE SIDESHOW JOKE?
Hector Reyna can be a funny guy, sometimes. The sometimes-Mayoral-candidate, sometimes-Congressional-candidate, sometimes EBMUD-or-Peralta-College-District-candidate, sometimes East-Bay-Regional-Park-District-candidate, (didn’t he run for City Council one time, too?) and always-Republican is a regular at City Council’s open forum. With his black cowboy hat and his rapid-fire acid-tongue complaints against government bureaucrats, Democrats, and Jerry Brown, he is often viewed by the Council and the Council audience as a bit of comic relief.
Still, this time I didn’t see anything funny.
Last week, Reyna took his two minutes of Council open forum time to criticize City Council about its "sideshow" policy. Instead of locking young people up for doing donuts in their cars, Reyna said, we should be setting aside a place for them to do it, and then charging people to come in and watch. At which point, District 7 Councilmember Larry Reid started laughing.
I’m not sure why Reid thought Reyna’s suggestion was such a joke. It seemed to be a serious, credible suggestion.
The Chronicle recently announced that Infineon Raceway up in Sonoma County (formerly called Sears Point) is currently promoting its Wednesday Night Drags as an alternative to the Bay Area’s sideshows and illegal street races. On Wednesday night, anybody with $20 and a drivers license can compete on a high-speed, quarter-mile track. One of the added drag night bonuses is that the kids can race (legally) against members of the Santa Rosa Police Department, who compete in uniforms and patrol cars.
Proposing high-speed track races as an alternative to sideshows only displays an ignorance about sideshow culture and what goes on there. Sideshows have absolutely nothing to do with high-speed racing, no matter how much State Senator Don Perata and the California State Legislature seem to be confusing the two. Still, it’s nice to know that the good folks up in Sonoma County are more concerned about finding some things for Oakland young people to do than we seem to be, ourselves.
San Diego has a similar sanctioned, off-street drag racing program, funded, in part, by the State of California and supported by the San Diego Police Department. SDPD officers even compete in the races.
(For information on the San Diego program, see http://www.racelegal.com/info.shtml. For information on the Sears Point Raceway program, see http://www.infineonraceway.com/pages/bracket/battlecops05-01.html.)
Interesting that when North Bay kids are caught doing illegal drag racing, a night is set aside for them at a professional speedway, and local cops participate in the process. When San Diego kids are caught doing drag racing in the streets, the State of California puts up money to allow them to do it in a legal, off-street facility. When Oakland kids are caught doing donuts in the streets…not high-speed racing…the State of California provides no money for alternatives, and instead, at the insistence of local officeholders like Don Perata and Wilma Chan Jerry Brown and Larry Reid, passes a law that allows police to seize these kids’ cars, without a prior hearing. Wonder why the difference, and how such a thing came to be? Everybody overlooks poor Oakland? Lack of local leadership and foresight? Difference in the color of the kids? I’m not suggesting, one way or another. Just speculating.
Oakland’s failure to provide a legal, sanctioned sideshow alternative seems all the more poignant in recent weeks as KTOP and KDOL rebroadcast programs about the city’s rising murder rates. Over and over I see images of Police Chief Richard Word at meetings and rallies, pointing out that in order to break the cycle of violence in this city, Oakland has to reach out to its young people and provide safe alternatives. But why wasn’t that done for the sideshow participants?
Old school sideshowers say that the gatherings were originally organized off-street, in East Oakland parking lots, by Oakland African-American youth who did not want to get caught up in the drama of Oakland’s street violence of the 80’s and early 90’s. And for almost a decade, these gatherings did not seem to be a problem for anyone. I keep seeing police officials on television, complaining about these young people taking over the streets and disrupting neighborhoods. But none of that happened until the police ran the young people out of the parking lots and into the streets.
That wasn’t the city’s only choice. And what we’ve gotten stuck with is no joke.