If the looting of retailers, hard drugs run rampant and a homeless population growing quicker than the regular one were not enough to make the Bay Area city of Oakland unlivable, add the challenge of so-called “sideshows.”

Counter to the the carnival-inspired name sideshows have proven to be a menace to law-abiding citizens. Despite trying, the Oakland Police Department, which endured budget cuts, has not stopped the high-speed hoedowns.

Sideshows — which began benignly, in the early 1980s, with car aficionados gathering to peacefully show off their beloved rides next to a carnival in the Foothill neighborhood of Oakland — evolved into impromptu, dangerous and menacing meet-ups.

These days, sideshows are street spectacles that involve participants suddenly shutting down four-way intersections and even major bridges, and using the expanses of asphalt to put on displays of cars, often with blacked-out windows, doing extreme donuts.

This was the scene on an intersection in Oakland where a sideshow went wildly out of control.
Fox 2 KTVU

Sideshow car hits a fireplace and sends water gushing skyward
A sideshow car rammed an Oakland fire hydrant, busted it up and sent water gushing skyward.
Fox 2 KTVU

That is, the driver stomps the gas pedal, rapidly accelerates to 50 or so miles per hour, lifts his foot from the clutch and forces the rear of the car to spin out.

“You can have hundreds of people watching,” Cheral Stewart, who has worked in tech marketing and is a resident of the city, told The Post.

“Then they start skidding their cars, drifting and doing donuts, one driver after the other. Take photos of the license plates and people will pull guns on you.

Sideshow cars burns rubber and leave skid marks in a blocked Oakland intersection.
Mrinali Goyal via Storyful
Sideshow cars leave skidmarks in a blocked intersection
Hundreds of people can gather to watch the “sideshows.”
Mrinali Goyal via Storyful

the Bay Bridge jammed up for a sideshow
Sideshow participants ground traffic to a halt on the Bay Bridge, connecting Oakland and San Francisco.

“Drivers wear bandannas or ski masks or covid masks. Some of the windshields are illegally tinted. They shoot guns into the sky. Any activity goes. It’s like ‘Fast & Furious’ has come to our neighborhood.”

Pity the brave citizen who tries to curb sideshows. In a story that aired on Fox 2 in San Francisco a man used a red bucket to whip the rear of a white sedan “spinning donuts around him.”

He was quickly mobbed by spectators who kicked and punched him into what appeared to be an unconscious state.

overhead view of a sideshow
A California Highway Patrol helicopter monitoring one sideshow picked up a large crowd watching multiple cars doing donuts at an intersection.
Goldne Gate Division Air Operations

Helicopter footage of a sideshow
The footage shows how sideshows work, with cars lining up to take part as crowds watch.
Goldne Gate Division Air Operations

He laid on the sidewalk, his head inside the red bucket and his pants pulled low enough that his posterior was blurred. Meanwhile, the show went on, with cars screeching and skidding alongside him.

Soon after, a car spun out of control, hit a spectators and slammed into a fire hydrant, blasting it apart and sending water gushing. 

The Fox report noted that cops can do very little, since they are invariably outnumbered. A police car can be seen slowly and respectfully driving through a sideshow intersection before being escorted away from the scene by a posse of sideshow participants on motorcycles and SUVs. 

cars on fire after a sideshow
The aftermath of an Oakland sideshow leaves a fire car for authorities to contend with. Residents, on clean-up duty in the morning, often find spent shell casings.

Seneca Scott
Former mayoral candidate Seneca Scott credits “no rules of law” as the reason why sideshows are allowed the thrive,

Some residents discreetly took matters into their own hands. “We have heavy cables blocking cul de sacs from sundown until early morning,” said one who asked not to be named because such a move is not, technically, legal. “Plus we use tubs of slurry, which is wet sand, to block the street.”

A request for comment from an Oakland PD spokesperson went unanswered.

City Councilman Noel Gallo did not respond to The Post, though he did tell Fox, “We’re not trying to criminalize. We’re trying to enforce the law to make it not only safe for the community but also safe for the individuals involved with the sideshows.”

Footage of a driver performing donuts
Security cameras caught what happened in one carpark as a driver performed donuts.

Footage of a driver performing donuts
The driver’s apparent plan to do donuts around a lamppost went very wrong.

Aftermath of practice for a sideshow.
This was the aftermath, leaving the car totalled.
Antioch Police Department

Seneca Scott who made a failed bid for oayor of Oakland in 2022 as an independent, is less mellow. “There’s no rule of law in Oakland,” he told The Post.

“Cops are handcuffed and can’t do enforcement. Cities with permissive policies are targeted by people who do street takeovers. Liberal is not the word for what is allowed to go on here. It’s a city run by zealots. It’s disgusting and a safety issue.”

Sideshows are nothing new to Oakland. They’ve been going on for decades but had been a staid activity. “It used to be kids hitting the taco truck, hanging out, shooting a couple donuts and going home; it was a cultural thing,” Cynthia Elliott, a repairer of exercise equipment, who’s been living in Oakland for more than 20 years, told The Post.

Noel Gallo
Oakland Councilman Noel Gallo wants to keep things safe for citizen and for the unstoppable sideshow participants.
City of Oakland

man gets beaten after expressing frustration over the sideshows
When an Oakland resident expressed frustration over the dangerous antics that have come to define sideshows, he withstood a violent beatdown.
Fox 2 KTVU

“But it got out of control during Covid. I can’t make a connection other than [the possibility] that these kids did not have the outlet of going to bars or parties and now it’s been taken to extremes.”

Sideshows have put a dent in quality of life for locals. “People can’t sleep and the police stopped responding to complaints,” said Elliott.

“A woman from former Yugoslavia, who went through the war there, said she was getting PTSD from hearing gunshots and donuts. In the morning, we clean the trash [left behind by sideshow participants and spectators] and find 15 gun-shells.”

police trying to break up a sideshow
Police do their best to to curb the sideshows, but, too often, law enforcers find themselves outnumbered.
San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

And, she adds, sometimes the spectators become participants: “They stand on two sheets of plastic, hang onto the backs of open trunks and get dragged around like they’re standing up on sleds. Plus, kids hang out of the windows and shoot guns into the air.”

Told that the sideshow activities sound dangerous, Elliott grimly responded, “That’s the name of the game.”