Street racing, stunting, sideshows—we’re not fans around here. Too many people get hurt, too many people get killed. But generally, we keep our criticisms to the participants. Now, however, even merely seeing an infamous West Coast-style sideshow in San Jose can kill you, Bird Box-style. Or put you in jail for up to six months and a $1,000 fine, one or the other.
Probably the latter though, As ABC7 and other outlets report. According to a new ordnance passed by the San Jose city council, which specifically makes spectating a “Street Race” or “Reckless Driving Exhibition” a crime:
Spectators Prohibited at Street Races and Reckless Driving Exhibitions A. It shall be unlawful for any person to:
1. Be knowingly present as a Spectator at a Street Race conducted on a public street or highway; or
2. Be knowingly present as a Spectator at a Reckless Driving Exhibition conducted on a public street or highway or in an Offstreet Parking Facility.
B. It shall be unlawful for any person to:
1. Be knowingly present as a Spectator where Preparations are being made for a Street Race conducted on a public street or highway; or
2. Be knowingly present as a Spectator where Preparations are being made for a Reckless Driving Exhibition conducted on a public street or highway or in an Offstreet Parking Facility.
Sideshows, for better or worse, are a significant part of West Coast car culture. If you’re not familiar with them because you’re from some desolate corner of the world, like New Jersey, in its most essential form a sideshow is when people shut down streets or whole intersections and do burnouts and donuts in them.
There’s a lot of noise, a lot of tire smoke, and a lot of danger as the cars get scary close to the crowds that often accompany them. We’re not going to link to them here, because again, it’s not the sort of thing we want to be promoting, but you can see how wild (and how dangerous) it gets from the gif up top.
Sideshows have been around for decades, and were even immortalized in Richie Rich’s 1990 jam, Sideshow:
Peace, playboy, I’m on my way to the side show
Down Bancroft, to the light
Let me warm it up, I hit a donut tight
There’s a Chevy on my side, windows straight tinted
I think he got hype when he saw me spin it
I’m up outta there, sideways to the next light
Vogues kinda smokin but Zeniths still tight
I’m at the side show, parlayin’ and playin’
I get why a city would want to clamp down on sideshows. I get why communities may not want local hoons doing burnouts all willy-nilly here and there. Crowds can number over 1,000 people at sideshows, according to NBC Bay Area, and in the past they’ve been combatted by increased police staffing and by installing bumps in intersections.
It’s the targeting of spectators and how broad the ordnance is, though, that’s not sitting right with me.
Admissible evidence to charge someone with the crime of spectating a sideshow, according to the ordnance, includes but is not limited to “the time of day,” “that the motor vehicles at the Scene have been modified or altered to increase power, handling, or visual appeal;” and “the number and descriptions of motor vehicles at the Scene.”
The “time of day,” by the way, isn’t specified. So, any time between 12 a.m. and also 12 a.m. the next day, I guess.
So if you’re hanging out with some friends with your real GCs (Good Cars), and one of your departing fellows accidentally rips a fully sick burnout, which, whatever, it happens, a cop could conceivably use that to jail all of you for spectating at a “Reckless Driving Exhibition,” which according to the ordnance “shall mean any exhibition of reckless driving referred to in California Vehicle Code Section 23103, as may be amended.”
Not to mention that many a random bystander or even passer-by could be arrested, or even shot, just for what they look like. This is the United States we’re talking about.
It’s just a real slippery slope, especially for anyone that likes cars. There are better ways to target street racers and sideshows. Going after anyone the cops thought might have been watching, with scant evidence, isn’t a good approach.