So we've had another drunk-driving-police-chase-sideshow (in quotation marks) automobile injury accident out in East Oakland. How many, now? One loses count.
The bare facts, as far as they can be pieced together from newspaper accounts, is that 52 year old Oakland janitor Juan Martinez was critically injured last Saturday night when the car in which he was driving on 98th Avenue in Brookfield Village was struck by a car driven by 27 year old Randolph Brown. Injury accidents happen all the time in cities, with little notice. This one rated an article in both the Chronicle, of San Francisco, and the Tribune, of Oakland--as well as a column in the Daily Planet of Berkeley--because of the incidents preceding.
In both the Chronicle and the Tribune stories, the California Highway Patrol have been cruising the Oakland streets of late to help Oakland police crackdown on sideshow (in quotation marks) activities. East Oakland-International Boulevard, especially-has been something of a police state of late, with CHP cars crusing up and down the nighttime streets. Come out here on the weekend, and you can see them pulling drivers from the Fruitvale District to the San Leandro border. We'd been told that the CHP had been called in by Oakland officials to help out with Oakland's soaring murder rate, but maybe that's what they're doing, on the sly. Stop a thousand cars in East Oakland, after all, and the odds are you've got to come up with at least one that contains a driver (or a passenger) who might consider shooting somebody?somewhere?sometime in their life.
Anyway, the Chronicle and the Tribune agree that CHP officers spotted Brown spinning donuts in his Mustang and 73rd and Bancroft. Both papers implied that there was a sideshow (in quotation marks) going on, though never saying so explicitly, and the Chronicle article also included a helpful explanation of sideshow (in quotation marks) activity for readers west of the bay not familiar with the practice: they occur (according to the Chronicle) "when drivers rev their engines and wage spinning contests to the delight of crowds that can number in the hundreds." Was there a "spinning contest" going on at 73rd and Bancroft on Saturday night? Were there hundreds of people out in a crowd, there, watching? Or was Mr. Brown simply out there spinning a donut on his own? (which East Oaklanders have been doing for a couple of decades, by the way, most often unrelated to what people define as sideshows) On this point, both newspapers are silent.
In any event, both newspapers agree that when he saw the Highway Patrol officers, Mr. Brown sped away. The CHP "briefly gave chase (according to the Chronicle) but CHP supervisors quickly called off the pursuit because it was too dangerous on city streets."
Officers saw Mr. Brown's Mustang again at 87th and International "but again Brown took off at speeds exceeding 70 miles and hour (according to the Chronicle, again) and the pursuit was dropped (again according to CHP officials). Just two minutes later, officers (which officers? the same ones who originally saw Mr. Brown at 73rd and Bancroft? one is left to speculate?) encountered the accident scene on 98th Avenue near Interstate 880, authorities said." The Tribune gives the last moments before the crash a slightly different take, saying that the CHP officers "canceled the pursuit at 98th Avenue and San Leandro Street." For those of you unfamiliar with Brookfield Village, that is within easy walking distance?almost within sight, in fact, though it's around a bit of a curve?of the accident scene at Denslowe and 98th.
In any event, Mr. Brown was arrested by officers at the accident, and charged with felony drunk driving.
This has become a ghastly familiar story out here in this end of Oakland. We have three distinct problems that often get interrelated-by both the police, the public, and the press. One is drinking and driving. One is high-speed police auto chases. One is the spinning of donuts in an automobile in the middle of an intersection.
The dangers of drinking and driving need not be explained to the average American adult. Despite our best efforts, we have not gotten it in to the heads of many of our friends and neighbors that the two are a deadly mixture. How many die from drunk driving accidents in a year? Look it up yourself. It's an enormous problem.
High-speed, injury-accident police auto chases are a growing concern in this country. Several police chases resulting in horrific traffic deaths recently shocked the City of Los Angeles, which is not easily shocked. In response, the LA City Council instituted a temporary ban on police chases for minor traffic violations.

And then we have the Oakland practice of spinning donuts in a car in the middle of an intersection. Noisy and annoying, yes. Maybe a little dangerous, too. But according to Oakland Police Chief Richard Word--man not given to public falsehoods--the spinning of donuts has not directly caused a single death in this city. The only deaths have occurred after drivers have raced away from police rolling up on the events.
And which one of these three problems, do you think, does the City of Oakland consider so dangerous that upon it must be instituted a continuing crackdown? Donuts, of course.

Priorities. Priorities.

Originally Published November 28, 2003 in the Berkeley Daily Planet Newspaper, Berkeley, California