It is now illegal to so much as even watch a sideshow in Alameda County, and you could get a $1,000 fine or six months in jail for being within 200 feet. But what if you just happened to be there, and weren’t watching the sideshow?
It is now summertime, so you will not be surprised if every Sunday or Monday morning, your SFist reading will likely contain news of sideshows over the weekend. And some of these feature whimsical stunts! But there’s nothing funny about the sideshows where heckling bystanders are beaten senseless by a mob, where cars are set on fire and smashed up (which indicates cars are being stolen for sideshow purposes), or when people are waving AK-47s or getting killed.
The sideshow surge of recent years has been particularly vexing for Oakland, where the above-mentioned bystander being beaten senseless incident took place last month. And so Alameda County is taking a new, unproven, and unconventional approach to deterring sideshows. KTVU reports that the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to make it illegal to even watch a sideshow.
"When you have hundreds of vehicles, hundreds of participants, all sorts of unlawful behavior, it’s just not wholesome for our society," Alameda County Board President Nate Miley said before Tuesday’s vote, according to KTVU. "The idea is, if you take away the audience for the sideshow, that might discourage sideshow activity."
The penalty for watching a sideshow is a possible six months in jail, and/or a $1,000 fine. They define watching a sideshow as being within 200 feet of the sideshow, which civil liberties groups feel is casting way too wide of a net.
“The public and the press have a right to monitor and observe and report on things that are happening in a public place, even if those things are illegal," First Amendment Coalition legal director David Loy told KTVU.
1/3: Sideshow in area of Main & Harrison near Bay Bridge in San Francisco. “We were woken up by fireworks at 12:28, and shortly after that, the car squealing started and we went outside,” witness tells @KTVU. “The fireworks continued throughout.“ pic.twitter.com/xgBoOuqa2R— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) May 1, 2022
And what if the sideshows, which do move around, happened to move to within 200 feet of where you are, though you did not mean to be a spectator? What if a sideshow happened outside your house, and you are an angry neighbor who recorded it so you could complain on Nextdoor? Does that make you a spectator? The supervisors say this would be up to the law enforcement officers’ “discretion.”
But it’s clear that authorities are (and feel they must) try new methods to deter these things. San Jose will prosecute you for promoting sideshows on social media or for being a spectator. San Francisco may consider using drones to monitor the license plates. Santa Rosa considered sanctioned and safe sideshows. So lawmakers are trying novel new strategies, but so far nothing has put a dent in this activity, and currently those lawmakers are just going in circles.
Image via Youtube