The usually separate phenomena of a street takeover by cars and flash mob shoplifting merged in Los Angeles this week, prompting authorities to sound an alarm.
A sideshow — the name given for when a group of cars takeover a street and block traffic to make room for circular burnouts known as donuts — allowed a mob of people to ransack a 7-Eleven early Monday, Los Angeles police said.
The takeover and mass theft were captured on security video that the Los Angeles Police Department released Thursday. Traffic investigators are asking for help identifying suspected looters.
“Video surveillance from the store showed the looters fanning out across the store and grabbing all the snacks, drinks, cigarettes, lotto tickets and other merchandise,” the LAPD said in a statement.
“Looters also vandalized the store and threw merchandise at employees.”
The LAPD has been warning the public about both sideshows and “smash-and-grab” shoplifting since last year, when groups of people rushed into a series of retailers and grabbed goods.
“Flash mobs have turned from fun spontaneous events to opportunistic criminal occurrences,” the LAPD said this week.
Combining large groups of people and fast cars can be deadly.
Rally racing pulled away from larger, spectator events in the late 1980s after a number of high-profile spectator deaths on dirt tracks. And just last year in Houston, three spectators were killed when a Camaro traveling at a high rate of speed struck them on a sidewalk, officials said.
Last month, a 21-year-old man was fatally shot at a July 3 street takeover in South Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In the weeks leading to the Super Bowl, a Change.org petition urged the city of Los Angeles and regional authorities to take action against sideshows that have grown to become “pervasive.”
The events create “dangerous traffic conditions for all citizens and impeding traffic with mob-like intersection takeovers,” it said.
Last year Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that allows courts to suspend a driver’s license for takeover participants. A proposal to expand the law to include events on private property made its way through the legislature this year.
Police have also used equipment violations and 30-day vehicle impounds to tackle the gatherings.
Lili Trujillo Puckett founded the nonprofit Street Racing Kills after her 16-year-old daughter Valentina died in a vehicle that was racing nearly a decade ago.
She favors crackdowns but also is also pushing for a legal alternative: racetracks that host similar events.
She said she knows of no location in Southern California that hosts formal events for doing donuts, which most closely resemble drifting in the world of organized, sanctioned motorsport.
“The city should invest in tracks,” Puckett said. “We need to give them [participants] a place to go.”
So far, the government response to street takeovers in California has been to try to eliminate them.
The LAPD has tried to combat takeovers and other “illegal activity” on the city’s new Sixth Street Bridge by stepping up traffic enforcement since late July.
In March, Long Beach police tracked down a vehicle that they said was involved in a street takeover event that included an estimated 50 cars. The Nissan 350Z was impounded in Simi Valley, a city 65 miles north.
On one night in May, the LAPD cracked down on street takeovers across the city and county as part of a multi-jurisdiction task force that made 23 misdemeanor arrests, impounded 14 vehicles and made 30 traffic stops, the LAPD said.
In 2018, the California Highway Patrol created a task force to focus on the street takeovers, which it noted were often showcases for powerful vehicles that can easily injure spectators.
The CHP’s Oakland office has its own “sideshow detail,” which works with city police.
In San Jose, a spectator was seriously injured on July 31, 2021, at one of many flash-mob car events that were happening in the city that night, police said. Officers issued 17 equipment citations.
Just a few days earlier, a resident on the 32nd floor of a downtown San Diego high rise captured video of an emerging takeover and sideshow at one of the city’s busiest intersections.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Anne Christensen told NBC San Diego. “I thought somebody was gonna get killed down there.”
Takeovers and sideshows have flourished on the West Coast and Las Vegas and have spread to Southern California’s freeways.
Police said participants in Monday’s takeover subsequently blocked lanes of the 110 freeway, which leads downtown, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Erick Mendoza and Andrew Blankstein contributed.
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