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Monday, December 1, 2014

Thanksgiving Sideshow Bust: Vehicles Impounded, 23 Citations, and a "Red Van Battering Ram"

Posted By on Mon, Dec 1, 2014 at 2:54 PM

  • California Highway Patrol
Perhaps last week's Thanksgiving sideshow was engineered as a crime of opportunity, held on a night when Oakland police were obviously distracted by a protest melee in downtown Oakland. Nonetheless, it went hopelessly awry. 

"The sideshow people were thinking we'd be all busy with the protests," California Highway Patrol spokesman Sean Wilkenfeld says. But that idea backfired when a CHP helicopter — which had been flying over the city to assist with the protest crackdown — spotted a small army of cars spinning doughnuts at Seventh and Maritime streets. Hundreds of officers who were already out on the streets made a beeline to the action, quickly establishing a perimeter around the 200-vehicle fleet.

News media helicopters, which were also already in place to document the protests downtown, quickly turned their sights to the much better spectacle at the port. Desperate sideshow participants tried to escape by barreling through a cyclone fence that separated the street from the railroad tracks, where many of them got stuck. One, a hoopty red van now known as the "Red Van Battering Ram," became a mini Twitter meme:

Let's just say this incident resulted in many teachable moments. First off, don't be like the van driver, who not only had his vehicle impounded but is also facing child endangerment charges for bringing his kids along with him.

Also: It's never a great idea to commit a crime in an area saturated by law enforcement.

Don't assume that cops distracted by a violent protest on a holiday night won't be primed to break up chaos nearby. According to the CHP, the sideshow bust resulted in 23 citations, more than a dozen vehicle impounds, and 200 field interviews that may result in future charges. CHP is currently working with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office to determine who might be culpable for "aiding and abetting" the scene.

This bust also gave the CHP tons of ammo toward preventing future sideshows, in that some of the arrestees were habitual perpetrators, Wilkenfield says. Still, he's not sure the trend will abate. New social media tools have helped create a sideshow Renaissance in Oakland, and it seems to be picking up speed.

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About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.

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