This is the sequel to “The Fast and The Felonious,” our article about street racing from this past July. If you haven’t already, you can read it here.
In the race for the streets of Southern California, Los Angeles is still looking for solutions. For years, street racing has been a thorn in their side — a skidmark blemish on its record. Even with the largest fleet of municipal helicopters in the United States (19, plus a fixed-wing aircraft), the city’s struggling efforts to bring street racing and its teenage sibling ‘the intersection takeover’ to heel has done little to inspire confidence. Could it really be that difficult? At times, it’s hard not to wonder.
As it turns out, there is a reason for the limited response (good or bad is a topic for debate). In the fast-paced world of underground car clubs, intersection takeovers — or “Sideshows”, as they prefer to be called — have hit the scene. And, like most impetuous teenagers, they’ve started to rebel. (And spend way too much time on Instagram.)
We’ve touched on the tragically high cost of street racing before, but in the months since posting that first article, as drivers have become further inured to its dangers, the march of inflation has only seen the death toll rise.
In July it was four more, including a pregnant woman, her fiancé, and their two friends; killed in a furious instant when their BMW hit a median and flipped.
Like most races — this one along a deserted stretch of the Inland Empire’s 60 freeway — it was spur of the moment: a Mad Maxian dare beneath a setting, SoCal sun. But this race featured something most don’t: a contest between three cars, the other two fleeing unscathed; the allure of hubristic adrenaline left burning behind them.
“We just hope someone will come forward and tell us what happened,” said Sergeant David Robles of the California Highway Patrol. It’s a depressingly familiar refrain; a plea for answers, delivered with an air of resigned futility.
To its credit, the CHP haven’t given up. They are cracking down.
In Anaheim over the weekend, they swooped in on a gathering of street racers in a mall parking lot. Videos of the aftermath feature reporters giving their best journalistic rundowns while standing among swirls of rubber black — the painted remnants of the doughnuts drivers had been performing just minutes prior.
But this raid wasn’t done so much to curtail bad driving behavior, but rather to address an entire intersection of illegality (pun not intended) found within the street racing community.
As the profile of underground car culture has risen, its confluent nature has served as the ideal environment for the growth of unlawful pursuits, including drug use, auto theft, illegal vehicle modification, bookmaking, organized crime, and gang activity. While obviously not everybody involved in the street racing scene is party to criminal activity, the influx of bad actors has incentivized police to rethink their strategy for combating the issue. But doing so has been no easy task.
In the street racing world there are really only two kinds of contests: spur of the moment (think the cliché of two drivers making eye contact at a red light), and pre-planned.
For the former, given their impromptu construction, you can’t do too much more than educate young drivers. It’s a sad reality to confront. And in the case of the latter, plans of action are even more nebulous… but hope has arrived. (In the curse of technology.)
The increasing interest in underground car culture can in large part be attributed to its rise to prominence on YouTube and Instagram. As audiences have grown, members of the street-racing community have taken to chasing the quick dopamine hit of likes and followers, easily gained by uploading increasingly provocative content to the bullhorn of social media.
But viral posts aren’t what’s of interest to the LAPD or CHP. What they’re noticing is the use of Instagram’s “story” feature to broadcast details of a race or a sideshow. It’s a novel way of organizing gatherings covertly. Given the impermanence of stories (which automatically disappear within 24 hours), their shareability, and their ease of deletion, word-of-mouth can spread like wildfire while also staying under the radar.
“The larger a car club or race organizer’s online following, the easier it can draw large crowds to illegal events,” write James Queally and Nicole Santa Cruz for the Los Angeles Times. “[These] platforms have helped expand Los Angeles’ reputation as a proving ground for car clubs from as far away as San Bernardino and Oakland, allowing regional rivalries to gain steam through online wars of words and video clips of racers performing on their home turf.”
It’s in the best interest of the police to find a workable solution sooner rather than later. With scrutiny of the Blue at an all-time high, the new provocateur du-jour illustrates an alarming new trend: Sideshow drivers unafraid to clash violently (and publicly) with law enforcement, then post the feuds online.
Indeed, there’s been a notable uptick of aggression towards officers, and even more worryingly, towards emergency personal. Not only will drivers create a blockade with their cars to hinder officers in their pursuit of fleeing racers, but they’ll also prevent ambulances from reaching people having medical emergencies. Now, while trying to break up crowds of hundreds, officers are having to dodge fireworks and pelting rocks.
For civil servants on the beat, trying to catch street-racers red-handed has been an ongoing game of whack-a-mole — so much so that a task force created in 2014 was disbanded due to a lack of resources. An alternate, inter-agency task force was formed in 2016 after a fiery crash on the I-5, but so far it’s been hamstrung by a lack of manpower.
While it is generally understood that agencies do monitor the social media activity of known street-race organizers, it’s unclear of how adept they are at this tactic. When asked, “both the CHP and the LAPD refused to discuss how they track racing activity online,” noted the Los Angeles Times. Most likely not wanting to give away their tactics.
Although the refusal to provide details on their strategy can be seen as worrisome, we must put our faith in the idea that they will eventually find a solution. In the mean time, we will continue the conversation.
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Check Out These References for Further Reading:
“Seven charged with assaulting police during L.A. street racing incident.” The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 September 2018. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-street-racing-arrests-20180702-story.html
“In L.A.’s street-racing scene, ‘likes’ and followers can be just as important as engines and tires.” The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 September 2018. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-street-racing-social-media-20180730-story.html#
“Dangerous ‘street takeovers’ for car stunts have San Fernando Valley residents worried.” Digital First Media. Retrieved 20 September 2018. https://www.dailynews.com/2018/05/04/dangerous-street-takeovers-worry-san-fernando-valley-residents/
“The Valley is a street racing paradise — and illegal street takeovers are on the rise.” Southern California Public Radio. Retrieved 20 September 2018. https://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2018/05/08/62902/the-valley-is-a-street-racing-paradise-and-illegal/
“Fast and furious: police scramble to crack down on California’s deadly street races.” The Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/14/california-street-racing-los-angeles-movies