Chief Bill Scott address reporters at Mission and Persia streets on Wednesday, Sep. 16, 2020. Photo by Julian Mark

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

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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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Julian Mark

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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12 Comments

  1. Good. Now go after the illegal cyclists and skateboarders who are putting everyone at risk on streets and sidewalks. Not to mention the car break-ins and the bike thefts. And please don’t leave out the white collars criminals and money launderers and those who are coddling them at City Hall and the city departments.

  2. Agree with RMM & Sebra. My patience is wearing thin with the BOS, the Mayor and this police chief. Lots of talk but nothing tangible to point the City is moving in the right direction. Throwing money at problems (homeless) isn’t working, and memo to this administration and the BOS: businesses are restructuring their work operations and more & more will be leaving the City. And there goes your Corp tax base… then where does your revenue to pay Muni, to pay City pensions and to pay the homeless infrastructure (which grows ravenously year by year) which leaves crumbs to City Services for the elderly, immigrant community, maintenance of the parks and streets. Property taxes are capped so an increase of the 10% (#@&%!!!) Sales tax and more additional fees on your restaurants and small businesses???? It’s not sustainable. Government and citizens going to have to make tough decisions or this will continue. So next time you kvetch about the tents on your sidewalks, the feces and needles on the street, high cost of living in the City remember to hold these people you vote for accountable.

    Be safe out there

  3. That’s right, commenters, City Hall exists to propagate itself at your expense. We need to fire them all and replace with true public servants. How did the Mission allow Ronen to run unopposed? Now, you’ll have to recall her or live with worsening conditions for four more years.

  4. Watched one of these occur months ago at Market/Clayton. It was amazing. Only one police car showed up and they just sat there and watched. I could complain about lawlessness in SF but then I would be a hypocrite because I have always appreciated the lack of police presence here. It comes with the territory.

  5. To City Hall, the BOS and the chief of Police, Bla, Bla, Bla.

    Stop adding to the air pollution and actually get something done.

  6. Yes, but has anyone asked the DA if he will prosecute the people that are caught? This is all big talk if there is no prosecution.

  7. How hard is it to marshal 4 cop cars to block the exits to the intersection that the sideshow is being held in? You can leave but your car stays there. If it’s not legally parked it gets towed. Video the action, identify the participants and arrest them when they show up to get their cars back. the cops don’t have to storm the intersection with tons of officers, they just have to make the consequences so painful that people think twice about attending.

    Once again, the cops only think of how they can solve a problem with force.

  8. I just noticed the 7th paragraph has been edited/corrected since publication, with a simple helpful clarification about the ordinance’s content. I would like Mission Local even more if there were a correction note about this at the bottom, like newspapers’ websites use — without any notice of the change it’s hella confusing.

  9. Send a couple of plainclothes officers there. They take videos with smartphones. They jot down license plate numbers. Next day, pay a visit to the participants.

  10. The sideshow on Aug 24 had plenty of gunfire. I heard it move from Bayview, to Dogpatch, and on to Potrero. Gunshots for hours and police scanners said they were in pursuit of the perps on 101 until they hit the bridge and the chase was called off.

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