Photo by Lola M. Chavez

One man died and two people were critically injured in a shooting that took place during a sideshow on Mission and Persia streets early Monday morning, in which multiple eyewitnesses said that police moved in only after shots were fired.

Witnesses told Mission Local that police officers had been on the scene for several minutes, and were allowing the sideshow to continue — but immediately intervened after shots rang out, participants scattered, and a man identified as 21-year-old Cesar Corza of Sacramento was fatally wounded. 

Sideshows are unsanctioned events in which participants perform donuts in their cars in an intersection as onlookers block off the streets to cheer and watch. On Aug. 23, a sideshow took place at 24th and Bryant streets, although no one was apparently injured. 

Sideshows are illegal, and police consider them dangerous, but it’s unclear if police know how to effectively deal with them. 

Regarding Sunday’s incident, San Francisco Police Department spokesman Officer Robert Rueca sent the following statement to Mission Local in an email on Monday: 

“On 9/7/20 at approximately 12:16 AM officers responded to a sideshow in the area of Russia and Paris St. As officers were responding to the area of the sideshow they located a total of three victims in the area of Mission and Persia suffering from gun shot wounds. The victims were transported to the hospital for life threatening injuries. One of the victims succumbed to the injuries and was declared deceased. At this time we do not have suspect description to provide and do not have anyone in custody for the homicide. At this stage of the investigation we are unable to confirm the tie between the sideshow and the shooting as this is part of the ongoing and active homicide investigation.” 

But resident Julian Ostrow, who witnessed much of the incident from a rooftop near the intersection of Mission and Persia streets, provided an account that diverged from the SFPD’s official line. For starters, Ostrow said, he did not see police respond to the sideshow until around 12:45 a.m. 

When police did arrive, Ostrow said, he saw one patrol car park on Ocean Street facing the sideshow with its flashing lights on — but those officers did not attempt to break it up. 

“Police were there,” Ostrow said, “at least one watching for five minutes.” 

Then, he said, the shooting took place — four bursts of three or four shots, Ostrow said — all from within the crowd of around 200 people who dispersed from the gathering immediately. At that point, Ostrow said, there was an “initial wave of five police cars that responded extremely quickly and more and more kept rolling in.” 

Judging from the speed at which police responded to the gunfire, Ostrow believes additional police officers had been monitoring the sideshow from a short distance, although he is not certain. 

Gina Rosales was on the rooftop with Ostrow. She recalls two police cars watching the scene from the corner of Ocean Avenue and Persia Street. She heard them give dispersal orders through a PA from their cars “five to 10” minutes before the shooting. Save for a few participants, those orders were not followed, she said. 

“Is this the strategy?” Rosales thought. 

She noted that the two police cars she saw took approximately 40 minutes to show up on Ocean from when she first observed the sideshow. “It was a long time,” she said.  

The San Francisco Police Department declined to answer questions regarding how long officers had been observing the incident before the shooting occurred. The department also declined to provide a complete picture of their strategy. 

“Due to the large crowd and number of vehicles involved in the sideshow, officers were not able to take enforcement action, which could spur on more violence and aggression from the participants and bystanders,” Rueca wrote when asked about the SFPD’s strategy. “Officers were on scene during the sideshow documenting their observations when shots rang out.”

“We are precluded from providing specific information on investigative tactics, such as the number of officers and the length of time officers began their observations,” he added.

Following a February sideshow in the Richmond District, witnesses observed a similar response by police. “The police finally came like 30 minutes later and they said they couldn’t do nothing about it. And so they just kind of watched,” resident Tiffany Gardner told ABC 7.

Such reports prompted Mayor London Breed to scold SFPD Chief Bill Scott in text messages released via a public records request in May. “Needed to understand the news reports about the side shows this weekend,” Breed to wrote to the chief on Feb. 24. “Why did the police stay on the sidelines and allow them to happen?” 

Much of Scott’s response is redacted in the text message exchange, but he appeared to deny that police simply stand by and watch. “Not sure what they saw or why they said what they said but what I do know is when officers arrive at sideshows … [redacted].” 

For Ostrow, however, it does not matter what the SFPD’s policy is: “They had the opportunity to intervene,” he said. “Had they done so, there would not be somebody dead.”  

Joe Eskenazi contributed reporting. 

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37 Comments

  1. Hey, what about all the folks who constantly stress de-escalation? Had the SFPD intervened earlier they still would have criticized.

  2. What a hoot, all these cry babies in this city say Defund The Police, and “F The Police”. And now you guys complain that the SFPD didn’t intervene quick enough? What a joke. I’m Sure the killed guy was a real contributor to society. Maybe SFPD should start a blue flu, would love to see it.

    1. Actually he was from Sacramento and he was an up and coming boxer with a baby on the way. Don’t be so insensitive.

  3. Julian Mark, Try to find an expert in police tactics, a member of the BOS or a member of the Police Commission to comment and give a couple of the specific tactics the officers should have engaged. These situations are rife for a violent conflict between police and participants. Consider the department’s rules on vehicle pursuits and the demand for de-escalation. No matter what the officers do, they will be criticized. To effectively deal with a situation like this requires scores of officers.

  4. Who’s to say the shooting doesn’t happen regardless of “intervention”? The cops were there and someone still had the balls to shoot at people. If the police confronted the gunman- and shot the gunman- what would the community be saying about that? Plus- what would the DA be doing on the back end of “intervention”?

  5. So people are wondering why 2 cops couldn’t disperse a crowd of 200 non law abiding celebrants. You’ve got to be kidding me. The SFChronicle has an article declaring side shows as a cultural event. So, even when the police do not discharge their weapons, someone getting shot to death at a side show is also their fault.

  6. I don’t think people grasp how impossibly difficult breaking sideshows are. You’ve got 200+ people, some of them intoxicated, some of them packing automatic weapons…etc. How on earth are you supposed to disperse that with tickets and de-escalation techniques? But if you really insist, this is the kind of stuff the military is equipped for, not SFPD.

  7. So 2 cops are expected to disperse a crowd of over 200 people? A crowd that included people armed with guns. An article in the SF Chronicle called sideshows a cultural event. In SF cops are blamed whenever someone is shot to death even though they do not fire a single round.

  8. Police couldn’t do shit anyway. I live up the block and this is the 2nd big sideshow On Mission and Persia in the past month. By big I mean well over 100 ppl. This city is a joke. Anyone can do what they want without consequences.

  9. Three separate dates in this article regarding sideshows. The point being it’s the fault of the police that somebody got killed? The case for that conclusion was certainly not made in this article. Not even close.

  10. So now we expect 2 cops to be able to disperse over 200 people who I’m sure were very cooperative to the officers’ orders? The crowd obviously included people who were armed with guns. Let’s not forget that yesterday an article in SF Chronicle claimed that sideshows are cultural events. Amazing how the SFPD can be blamed for the shooting death of a person despite having no involvement in the shooting. All these demands to defund the police, the police need to be culturally sensitive, need to de-escalate, but now there’s criticism because of the sentiment that they weren’t aggressive enough. Geez, SFPD just can’t do anything right.

      1. Mission and Persia *is* my neighborhood, genius.

        Whatever point you’re trying to make, you’re stacking failure on top of failure.

        JE

          1. Oh, I’m sorry. I misread your brilliant comment.

            First of all, I didn’t write this story. Second, many of our prior articles about prior sideshows are linked in the story.

            So, I concede that your point isn’t nonsensical; you apparently know where I live. But it is stupid.

            JE

  11. completely different circumstances. A dangerous public disturbance like a side show is why we have armed police, and even there they can practice deescalation (e.g. parking 5 cars in the intersection and then letting people disperse vs. actively engaging in crowd control). That’s different from dealing with a mentally ill person, or a routine traffic stop, or domestic disturbance, where police should be the deterrent to escalation but trained professionals deal with the actual issues.

    1. What is a “ dangerous public disturbance? “ These sideshows happen early on Sunday or Monday mornings ( like the one I just heard outside at 1:45 am Mission Cesar Chavez)
      There are no people on the street .
      They should be held at the Cow Palace or be like a Monster Truck show in a big arena. Free admission- enter at your own risk.
      Sideshows are the new “ Graffitti”.

  12. There are some hard questions Chief Scott and the SFPD need to answer about how they are dealing with this problem. Gunfire is increasingly associated with these events. We’ve got one person dead, two hospitalized, and conflicting accounts of what happened between eyewitnesses and the SFPD. Is the city trying to bury the problem and hoping it will go away?

    1. SFPD is hiring!!!
      All who think they can do better, please apply!!!
      Very easy to criticize from the sidelines!!
      You have a job?
      They have a reserve program, no excuse not to get involved!!
      Most people are watchers and whiners, so easy after the fact!!

  13. The police would have been roundly criticized if they had attempted to break up the sideshow. The same actors calling to defund the police now criticizing the police for *not* breaking up a cultural gathering. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  14. Thank you for the reporting as always. As someone in the mission for 20+ years, this is standard operating procedure. The cops don’t intervene because if they do, there could be a stampede, cars could try for a quick getaway and run people over, etc., etc. They don’t take action unless they have to. Now once shots are fired, the cops swarm. Again, standard procedure. I personally think everyone participating in a slideshow should be arrested, but that’s (1) not realistic, and (2) would be wildly unpopular in SF.

    Just think of the optics. Cops intervene in a “peaceful” sideshow; people get killed by cars running them over in a rush to flee; the criminals with guns start shooting which SF progressives say “would not have happened but for the cops intervention”. The cops get blamed for multiple deaths because of their “aggressive” actions.

    For your witness Ostrow to claim that the cops are somehow culpable because they didn’t intervene is just laughable, and quite frankly childish and myopic. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  15. There is nothing we can do. We aren’t allowed to pursue these suspects (only violent felons, and even then, if I can ID the suspect I can no longer pursue). We aren’t going to go in 2 deep against 200, many drunk/high and some armed. If I go in and get surrounded, I will have to shoot my way out because I have a baton, pepper spray, and nothing else. I’m not going to get stomped out in a fight and have someone take my gun.

    What do you want from us? Our General Orders are public information. This is a misdemeanor crime. Even if I “arrest” them, it’s a citation at scene and they are free to leave. Maybe I tow their car without causing a riot. But even if I tow one, now I sit there for 20 minutes and the sideshow goes somewhere else. I can’t spike any of the cars fleeing, I can’t set up a road block. I can sit there with my lights on, and that’s it. If they block me out there’s nothing I can do.

    If the BoS and mayor want us to do something, tell us what you want! We will gladly follow the rules they set, but just tell us what the rules are!

        1. Sir, Couldn’t it work if the city designated a space like the Cow Palace or vacant parking lot at Midnight or an arena for sideshows? No police. Enter at your own risk?

  16. It’s pretty sad this young man’s life ended before it really started and the system is shitty especially in sac ,prayers to this man’s family and unborn child to see a bunch of fucktards arguing over a life that should never been taken regardless of where the fuck he was he is loved …..put the guns down and if you can’t take a ass whooping stay home

  17. The police can’t win. Good ole’ Chesa would have charged the officers for using any kind of force. SF is a joke. Your progressive policies have turned SF into a complete toilet.

    1. San Francisco has been a LIVE & LET LIVE city since the Gold Rush! All kinds of things that were unthinkable anywhere other than maybe New Orleans have been accepted her like communists, , homosexuals, Opium dens, Speak Easy’s, the first women here were Prostitutes and the Barbary coast was WILD! It only recently(1990’s- now) was gutted completely by tech and outside developers . The Sideshows are outlaw renegade Street talent and Artform like Punk Rock after parties in the 70’s. I find it Refreshing!

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