Youth take over Los Angeles streets to organize races: "It's like a war zone"

LAPD: "Our hands are tied by our limited resources, and we can’t really deal with the crowds."

Young people have taken to the streets of Los Angeles, literally. They cut off traffic on a section of a street, or a square, and turn the asphalt into an improvised race track. They put their cars to the test, and burn their tires. "These are scenes of lawlessness," says California Highway Patrol Lt. Joseph Zagorski.

The Los Angeles Times has published a report about the custom of occupying the streets and turning them into a recreational space. It is titled "Inside L.A.’s deadly street takeover scene."

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Six dead

It is deadly, because all those spaces gained from the rule of law are available for any kind of outrage. "In the last eight months, at least six people have died during or near street takeovers," LAT recounts. The newspaper reports several news items on the subject: two men killed in their parked car, two others in an accident, a young man in his twenties who was shot to death, and a teenager who was also shot to death.

There is also time for looting. Last week, during one of those street takeovers, a crowd turned out at a 7-Eleven in the city and plundered it .

Pandemic and abandonment

The custom of occupying the streets was created after the pandemic. This was one of the unintended consequences of the confinements. The streets were deserted, and became a favorite playground for young people ready to burn tires.

Since the mid-2020s, shows were organized in front of dozens or hundreds of spectators with private car races. The authorities let them do it. The organization of the events became increasingly ambitious and complex. When the rest of the citizens returned to the streets, they found that they could not use them as before.

Almost four a day

In the first half of last year there were 705 street takeovers, and exactly half a thousand shows organized in the streets. On average, that's almost four street control acts and almost three racing shows a day.

The Los Angeles Police Department is poised to end the practice. Perhaps at another time they would have been able to do so, but at this time they have no means on their own to do so. The Los Angeles Times explains it this way:

Representatives from the California Highway Patrol, the Sheriff’s Department and the LAPD say they lack the staffing to safely stop sideshows while they’re in progress. Large crowds can easily become hostile, and coordinated responses to combat street takeovers have failed to curb the events, law enforcement officials say.

As a war zone

"It's like a war zone," says former Compton County Councilwoman Barbara Calhoun. And if law enforcement wants to win it without fierce battles, it will need more resources. Sheriff Michael Downing put it in these terms, "If you really have two patrol cars out there, you can’t do anything with 200 other cars on the runway."

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The agents have put their necks on the line to do their job, but without means their effort is ineffective: "We’ve had officers attacked. We’ve had patrol cars crashed into. We’ve had people get run over while cars are leaving. Our hands are tied by our limited resources, and we can’t really deal with the crowds."

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The protagonists are usually organized by Instagram. At midnight a few cars block an intersection, and an impromptu crowd gathers to watch the stunts the participants perform with their cars.

Measures against street control

Police officers are not able to control the situation on the ground, so the Los Angeles District Attorney's office is considering fining those involved in organizing the events on social networks.

The city of Compton attempted to stop or reduce the nightly shows by placing some obstacles on the pavement. But as this video shows, it has only served as a playground for new stunts:

The LAPD has announced that the vehicle will be impounded from anyone who participates in, or attends, a street takeover for up to 30 days. On a normal weekend, the police may seize 5 to 10 vehicles, but the LAPD expects to greatly increase that number.