What is a sideshow and why is California law enforcement cracking down on them?

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

(FOX40.COM) — The fast-and-furious style events known as sideshows are a rising issue in the Golden State. For some, it’s part of a culture, but California lawmakers and law enforcement officials deem the activity illegal and want it to stop indefinitely.

Sideshows in California mainly consist of people meeting up at vacant lots or roadways, typically between midnight and 2 a.m., to perform car stunts and play music with onlookers present.

What is sideshow slang?

The stunts can include donuts (skidding a vehicle in tight circles), wheelies (riding on one wheel of a bike or motorcycle), bouncing cars up and down as seen within the lowrider culture, skiing (driving a car while balanced only on two wheels), ghost riding (when a person exits a vehicle in neutral gear and dances beside or around it) and more.

Where did sideshows originate?

The original sideshows were not dangerous or nefarious, according to Sean Kennedy, a multimedia producer and local hip-hop historian, who spoke with KQED. “They were pop-up parties — part car show, part block parties,” that started at mall parking lots in Oakland in the 1980s, the article reads.

The number of people in attendance at sideshows ranges in size, with some events reaching hundreds of drivers and spectators and they usually last a few minutes. Although sideshows are often compared to the street-racing movie series, “The Fast and The Furious,” races are rarely involved. But that doesn’t stop the shows from sometimes going too far on the danger scale.

In recent years, sideshows have escalated to property damage, violent altercations, and even death on rare occasions, so much so that California law enforcement has taken extra measures to crack down on illegal activity.

In August 2023, Sacramento City Councilmember Lisa Kaplan proposed harsher penalties for people who participated in sideshows. She suggested that the current $500 fine should be increased to $1000 for first-time sideshow offenders, and people cited would also be financially responsible for any property damage caused.

“Maximum enforcement, maximum towing – holding for 30 days, and seeking the maximum amount for restitution for the cost that it incurs on the city,” Kaplan said.

Most recently, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office busted a massive sideshow in Stockton and used the opportunity to set an unprecedented penalty standard for people who were caught participating in sideshow activity and spectators. On Feb. 4, over 150 people were detained and nearly 90 cars were towed. Days later, the sheriff announced that no one would get their vehicles back until their case was heard in court.

“We’re getting a tremendous amount of calls from people wanting their vehicles back,” said San Joaquin County Sheriff Patrick Withrow on Feb. 5. “To those people whose vehicle we have in our possession, they can stop calling.”

While many people applauded the sheriff’s actions, others felt it was extreme.

“As both a LEO (law enforcement officer) supporter and a car guy, this is stupid,” said local resident Rob Hatten in a public social media post in response to the sheriff’s action. “If people want to burn out or spin donuts it’s not hurting anyone. There are plenty of abandoned parking lots where we could allow this. But impounding cars just for parking nearby and watching people spin donuts is getting to be totalitarian.”

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.