Screenshot from broadcast of Antioch City Council meeting with on screen text that says city ordinance prohibiting spectators at illegal motor vehicle contests and side shows

Antioch Council Does a U-Turn on Approach to Sideshows

Screenshot from broadcast of Antioch City Council meeting with on screen text that says city ordinance prohibiting spectators at illegal motor vehicle contests and side shows

(Screenshot captured by Samantha Kennedy / The CC Pulse)

By Samantha Kennedy

After voting at its last meeting to move forward with an ordinance that would have targeted sideshow spectators, the Antioch City Council decided to go in another direction at its Tuesday meeting.

Some members of the council expressed concern with an ordinance targeting spectators because it might give police officers another way to abuse their power. Instead, council members decided to have the ordinance focus on sideshow organizers.

Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker and a community member said other cities with an ordinance targeting sideshow spectators have not succeeded. Torres-Walker said she spoke with a council member from San Jose, which has an ordinance targeting spectators, and was told that it did not greatly reduce sideshows.

In 2019, San Jose passed an ordinance targeting sideshow spectators in an attempt to reduce the occurrence of the gatherings. But the ordinance did little to change things. Sideshows continued and, after passing another ordinance that banned the promotion of sideshows in 2021, local officials are still looking for a solution.

But Antioch council member Michael Barbanica said that ordinances targeting spectators are helpful. In fact, he said that according to conversations he has had with officers, the city of Pittsburg has been successful at deterring sideshows since it implemented such an ordinance in 2022. He said officers often don’t have to enforce the ordinance because it deters many.

Barbanica, a retired police lieutenant, acknowledged that the ordinance doesn’t fix everything but said he felt that it would be helpful to give officers another tool. He said the conversation around not wanting to hold spectators who disrupt neighborhoods accountable was confusing.

Torres-Walker said Antioch police officers have been given tools before and abused them. She said trusting the judgment and intentions of officers is difficult after previous officers have done things to break that trust.

In the past, Antioch has successfully worked with other cities in East County to deter sideshow activity.

Mayor Lamar Thorpe, who called the initial ordinance targeting spectators “punitive,” said the city’s Police Department has worked with other agencies like the California Highway Patrol to combat the issue countywide. The approach seemed to work, according to Thorpe, but the reduction of officers in the traffic unit after the department’s racist texting scandal made it hard to keep those numbers down.

Council members were more comfortable considering an ordinance that targets organizers of sideshows. But to enforce that ordinance, should it pass, would require similar officer time and gathering of intelligence. Antioch has used technology like street cameras and drones to identify sideshow participants alongside other agencies.

When ordinances don’t work, Bay Area cities have made unorthodox attempts to stop sideshows. San Jose asked several tech companies in August — including Meta, Snapchat and TikTok — to help prevent the events by suspending or banning accounts that promote sideshows.

Thorpe asked council members to only direct staff to develop an ordinance they believed would pass to avoid wasting staff’s time. Despite support from council members Barbanica and Lori Ogorchock, who was absent this meeting, potential opposition by Torres-Walker, Thorpe and council member Monica Wilson could kill the ordinance.

Thorpe said council members could revisit adding spectators to the organizer ordinance if it passes and does not end up reducing sideshows.

The next Antioch City Council meeting is Nov. 28.

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