Earl Ofari Hutchinson
On three different occasions I witnessed in person a street takeover. The first time it was a block from my house. It was Sunday night near midnight. I went to the corner where the crowd which looked like a little UN of about three to four hundred had gathered. I asked some of the participants why they were there, and did they know or care that they were disturbing the residents and presented a clear and present danger to motorists. They gave me a blank look.
The second time I witnessed the tail end of the deadly street takeover near Florence and Crenshaw that claimed the life of a motorist passing by at the time. The third time I publicly challenged the LAPD, LA County Sheriffs, and CHP at the corner of Century and Western Avenue in South L.A. to make their street takeover task force permanent,
The perplexing question which in one case went unanswered by the participants and that has confounded law enforcement, public officials and community residents is why street takeover not only happen but seemingly have gotten bigger, bolder, and more in the community and law enforcement’s face in the past year? The other equally perplexing question is what can be done about them?
The starting point to answer question one is just who the individuals are involved in street takeover and why. There has been no detailed profile of the typical street takeover participant or their motive for participating. From my observation, they are mostly young, comprised of all ethnicities and even genders, and treat the street takeover as part thrill, part happening, part sense of momentary empowerment, and almost certainly part defiance of authority.
Certainly, it is thrill seeking taken to the extreme, since there is also a sense maybe even expectation of an accident, injury or even in extreme cases death. Social media has made it simple for individuals to gather at a designated street corner at a designated time once the word goes out. In the two street takeovers I directly observed I was struck by how fast the crowd gathered at the location, and how fast they dispersed the moment the LAPD and the LA County Sheriffs showed up. This made it more difficult for law enforcement to quickly intervene with arrests and the impounding of vehicles.
The specially trained task force that cracked down on the takeover at Century and Western, though, used a combination of intelligence information to quickly arrive at and then surround the scene. Then it followed with targeted impounds and arrests. This at least for that moment had a sobering effect and sent a strong message that law enforcement had finally developed a tactic to combat a takeover with the proviso that it could get ahead of the mob.
Street takeovers are certainly not new. Young people and car enthusiasts have had a long tradition in Los Angeles of commandeering a street and showcasing their souped-up vehicles in showboat promenades and Riverside 500 type speed racing, stunts, and reckless driving displays.
The goal was always to provide entertainment and cheap thrills for the spectators. In times past, public officials and law enforcement bowed to the popular craze and tried to provide designated open space areas and lots away from residential neighborhoods for the auto show boaters and participants. There was mixed success with this tactic. This of course for many paled in comparison to taking over a street and the subsequent sense of defiance and faux empowerment that comes with that.
The one other factor that helps to understand why street takeovers have cropped up to be the new sport of thrill seeking is the cultural dynamic. Once a deviant act is embraced by numbers of in this case bored, alienated, and rootless young persons, it takes on a dynamic of its own and becomes embedded in the subculture. That ensures that hundreds of people will quickly embrace the call to show up a location for the action.
There have been numerous efforts by state legislators to enact measures to combat takeovers. They include tougher sentences for those arrested, the permanent impounding of vehicles, stiff fines, imploring community residents to promptly report a street takeover, and reconfiguring street corners with barriers and speed prevention bumps. These measures have had varying degrees of success particularly in areas outside of South L.A.
That success has proven to be a double-edged sword. It has made South L.A. even more vulnerable and a target for street takeovers. The feeling among many being that law enforcement will be more lax and slower to respond there. This is the exact reason law enforcement in tandem with the community should respond even faster to the first sign of a takeover gathering in South L.A.
A swift, tough, proactive early warning crackdown is the best answer to those who think South L.A. is a soft target for wreaking their dangerous, and offensive brand of vehicle and community mayhem. The message then is takeover the takeovers and end them once and for all.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is How Trump Wins (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network. He publishes thehutchinsonreport.net