City leaders on Wednesday delivered a stern warning to participants of sideshows, promising that soon their cars can be impounded for two weeks to a month for participation. Owners/drivers could additionally face months in prison under existing state law.  

Wednesday’s announcement was made by Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, Mayor London Breed, and police chief Bill Scott at the intersection of Mission and Persia streets, where last Monday approximately 300 people gathered, watched cars do donuts, and dispersed only when 21-year-old Cesar Corza was fatally wounded by gunfire. Two others were critically injured in the shooting.

Sideshows are unsanctioned events in which hundreds of people typically gather, block off an intersection, and watch cars perform stunts like donuts in an intersection. Safaí said that their frequency has increased since the covid-19 shelter-in-place order took effect in mid-March. On Aug. 24, a sideshow took place on 24th and Bryant, though no one was apparently injured. 

“These things are just bad news,” Scott told reporters, explaining the potential for cars to careen out of control into spectators and their likelihood of leading to violent confrontations, as seen on last Monday in the Excelsior. 

The penalties would be codified under legislation introduced Tuesday by Safaí. If and when the legislation is approved by the Board of Supervisors — a process that will take at least a couple months — cars observed by police at sideshows will be impounded for two weeks on the first offense. If the car is seen a second time, it will be impounded for 29 days. And if your car is observed a third time, it will be impounded for another 30 days. 

“We will take your vehicle,” Safaí said. 

Moreover, under existing law, if police can prove that the car’s owner has “aided and abetted” in the events, the person could face six months in prison. 

“Even if you’re not arrested that night, if we have the evidence … that we need to prove that you committed this crime, we’re coming after you,” Scott said. 

Sideshow at 24th and Bryant on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020

The SFPD has received big-time flack from residents for not breaking up the sideshows immediately, appearing to stay on the sidelines and observing as the cars screech around the intersections and throw rubber smoke in the air. Witnesses of the Sep. 9 sideshow on Mission and Persia streets saw police intervene only after the shots were fired and the victims were injured. 

But Scott rejected the notion that police are being too passive. He said that officers rushing in to break up the large crowds without a plan is not a good strategy — one that could place both participants and police in danger. The chief imagined a scenario in which he was responding as a patrol officer. 

“Knowing what would happen if I go in by myself — me and my partner … then, unfortunately, I’m put in a situation where I have to discharge my firearm,” he said. 

Simply put, Scott said, he wants to avoid that manner of “volatile situation.” And creating a show of force to overwhelm a group, as the Mission police did with a small number of peaceful protesters in June, is difficult to organize on the fly, especially in the early morning on a weekend.  

“We’re calling officers from all over the city,” he said. “It takes time to get there. It takes time to assemble, to plan. These events have to be done thoughtfully.”

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