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Safe airspace, good neighbors
July 12, 2010 7:48 PM   Subscribe

We just had a run-in with the neighbors that ended with calling the cops. We stand out in the neighborhood like sore thumbs. If you've been in a situation like that: How can we make this not come around to bite us? Much

Background
I've been living in a (rental) house for two years, in a neighborhood in which the Mrs and I (mid-20s middle-class white people) are distinct minorities. My former roommate went out of his way to talk to the neighbors, but I'm not that outgoing. I don't avoid people, of course; I wave if I see someone as I'm arriving/leaving.

We've had very few problems, considering the city (Philadelphia) and the neighborhood: the house was broken into a few weeks after we moved in (the police said it was kids), and my car window was broken for the change in my cupholder. Now we have bars on the back window (which is well out of view) and I leave nothing of value in sight in the car. Nothing remotely bad has happened in over a year

Current situation
On several occasions, we've found loose garbage on our fenced back patio. (Fence to the south, our house to the east, and neighbors' houses to the west and north.)

Long story short, today Mrs Supercres caught someone on the roof of the building to the north (a house converted to apartments) throwing garbage bags over and into our back patio, then sweeping garbage off her roof into our yard. (FWIW, I wasn't home.) The first time, Mrs S didn't see the woman, so she had no way of knowing who it was. She called the police. Police came, heard the story, and gave her the number of a community-police liason.

The rain of garbage continued shortly after, and Mrs S saw and yelled at the woman, saying that she'd already gotten the police involved. The woman yelled back, apologizing profusely. Mrs S went back inside, but the woman came to our front door, repeatedly banging on the door and ringing the doorbell. Not wanting to deal with a possibly-irate stranger while home alone, Mrs S called the police again. This time, the cops questioned the woman about why in the world she was throwing garbage off her roof into an empty lot. They also got her information and said they would issue a citation directly to her.

Obviously I don't think we did anything too unreasonable (I mean, who does that?), but I'm a little worried about our stock in the neighborhood. Philadelphia is notorious for its "stop snitching" mentality, which I learned firsthand when our house was broken into. I'm worried that news of this will get around, and manifest itself in ways that impact the livability of this neighborhood for us. I'm worried about consequences ranging from people not saying "hi" to us anymore (I'll survive), to becoming a target for more crime, like vandalism, more window-smashing, or another break-in.

Please quell my fears, or tell me what to do, or tell me to move as soon as possible. (I would prefer the first but would settle for the second. The third is a last resort.) First-hand experience in a situation like this -- dealing with neighbors in "an early up-and-coming neighborhood" -- would be ideal. I don't really want to throw a party for the whole block and make bestest friends (again, not that outgoing). Should I talk to the landlord next door? I don't want to get this woman in any more trouble. Should I let it pass and cross my fingers?

Please don't say that it was ridiculous to call the police in that situation. Not helpful. Hindsight and all that, plus the stress of the moment. What's done is done.

Thanks in advance.
posted by supercres to Human Relations (51 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ridiculous to call the police? The woman was using your back yard as a personal landfill (?!?!?!?). Yeah, it was a good time to call the police. You must be under a lot of stress (understandably) from this situation to think that you were out of line to call the police.

I also don't think that qualifies as "snitching", since someone was (I reiterate) CONDUCTING AERIAL BOMBARDMENT OF YOUR YARD WITH GARBAGE. Pretty sure it's only "snitching" if you're a third party.

I can't possibly imagine why your neighbors would hold it against you that you called the police. Then again, a minute ago I couldn't imagine that SOMEONE WOULD DUMP... sorry, ok, I'm done with that. Just work under the assumption that you're a perfectly good neighbor who has done nothing wrong. I would guess your other neighbors are assuming the same thing. It might not hurt to be a little extra friendly, but then it never hurts to be a little extra friendly.

If I were you, lock your doors, hold your head high, and maybe get an umbrella for your back yard. Or a trampoline.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:01 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


What to do: nothing, for a week. Give everybody's bruised feelings time to settle down.

Then make a plan.
posted by flabdablet at 8:02 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I won't say it was ridiculous to call the police in that situation, but it does seem strange that you guys never made an attempt to contact her and then when she came over to apologize you instead called the police again. That is not very neighborly, and while I understand the stress of your living situation you have definitely damaged relations with your neighbors.

Why not try to actually talk to this woman instead of stay behind closed doors worrying about it?
posted by Think_Long at 8:04 PM on July 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


Reading your post, it sounds to me like you're overthinking this and making it more personal than it actually is. Your house was broken into by "kids" a few weeks after you moved in, and on a separate occasion your car was broken into and change was stolen. I think it's likely that no one knew who you were when they were doing this - I doubt they're doing it because you're the white people. As for your crazy garbage neighbor, she just sounds like a crazy lady.

I say this as someone who's lived in Queens for 5 years. This stuff happens all the time around here. I don't think anyone takes it personally. Granted, the neighborhood is pretty diverse, but as a general rule you just don't leave anything in your car because people will steal anything. Bars on the window, if you live on the first floor, are a given.

I don't understand why you should feel bad for calling the police on this lady. Has she done anything to you since then? Is there any indication whatsoever that your neighbors are plotting against you? It sounds to me like you've been doing things right - just be polite to people. Don't be a pushover. Don't let crazy ladies throw garbage in your yard.
posted by wondermouse at 8:06 PM on July 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I disagree with Think Long. I'm sure not going to blame the victim - which is you, not the lady coming to your door and your wife not answering when she's home alone. At some point you may want to considering moving to a place where going a year without personal experience with crime is something to celebrate.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 8:09 PM on July 12, 2010


They'll push you until you push back. Better to do so now than later. Lose the angst and stand up for yourself.
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 8:10 PM on July 12, 2010


I would wait a day and speak to the woman with your wife. Without apologizing, explain that going forward you really want to get along with this woman and all your neighbors and would like to put this incident behind you. Wait to hear her response. Her response will tell you all you need to know in order to make a decision about going forward. If she starts accusing you and screaming or putting you on the defensive then I would consider moving if you want to avoid strife. If she is cordial and agrees then agree with her and start a slow campaign to win everyone over by being neighborly. Does this woman have kids who could cause "accidents" or other mischief? That would be the only concern I would have.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:12 PM on July 12, 2010


I should say that I don't think that any of this -- certainly not this or the car-window-smashing -- were in any way racial or "mess with the outsider"-related. We were just kind of easy targets for the first two. For this one, we just happened to be between a really really ridiculously lazy person and an empty lot.

Think_long, we might've tried to talk this woman out of trashing our patio, except that we didn't know who it was until after it had escalated.

You're right, wondermouse. I am being a little paranoid at this point. I'm mostly posting to help calm myself down, or to head any reaction off at the pass.
posted by supercres at 8:15 PM on July 12, 2010


Calling the police seems warranted but I want to address this:

My former roommate went out of his way to talk to the neighbors, but I'm not that outgoing.

From a longer term perspective it's a good thing to make an effort to reach out to your neighbors. Not that you need to become new best friends or anything, but you want them to be personally invested in you, not just think of you as the outsiders. If they become invested in you they might say something if they see someone doing something like dumping trash in your yard. If they see you as outsiders they won't much care, even if they wouldn't do things like that themselves.

So develop relationships with your neighbors, that's my advice.
posted by 6550 at 8:17 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Think_long, we might've tried to talk this woman out of trashing our patio, except that we didn't know who it was until after it had escalated.

Fair enough, I probably just misread your post I do agree that you're probably over-thinking it though, apologies if I came off as a quick dispenser of harsh judgment.
posted by Think_Long at 8:18 PM on July 12, 2010


I lived in a neighborhood just like this, in Durham, North Carolina. I don't think it was ridiculous to call the cops - probably would have done the same - but would probably also then regret it later because it crossed a line that is hard to uncross. It conveys a statement - even if it's not one that describes your sentiments - along the lines of "this is how I'll deal with you - I'll get the police to do it." Your being white minorities heightens the racial politics - black inner-city people often feel that the police aren't on their side, so having them come in as your advocates polarizes things - draws an us/them line and places you on one side and your neighbors on the other.

This is not to blame you - only to describe what I think has happened in order to say what I think you should do. I think you should start looking to move. You're not comfortable, you don't feel safe, and that's probably not going to radically change. That's not a condemnation. Most people feel more comfortable living around people they can more or less relate to - people who when they come to the door, you're not immediately wondering "am I about to be assaulted?" The same is true of your neighbors. And this problem will only intensify if you have kids.

But in the meantime, I think you need to somewhat overcome your not-outgoing tendencies and show yourselves a bit more open to your neighbors - but the persona you show should be one that is friendly but absolutely, totally comfortable with drawing boundary lines. Hang around in your front yard messing with whatever you have there - weeds in my case - and talk to whoever goes by. Are there neighborhood watches? A group that's trying to build a playground or something? Join it. You don't have to become the vice president or anything, even showing up and doing a bit of work makes the opposite of the polarizing statement you've inadvertently made - it says "we live here, we think of ourselves as part of the neighborhood, we think of you as neighbors." It will probably be two hours out of your life once a month. Who knows, it might make you want to stay.

If you see this woman - and depending on whether your wife felt really threatened, you might even want to go a bit out of your way to see her - tell her hey, sorry that got out of hand, no hard feelings. This is what I did after something kind of similar with someone's dog that scared me to death. They were still mad at me - and I was actually still mad at them, too - but I shrugged and said - in front of others - "Well, no hard feelings on MY side, anyway, have a good day." It blew over.

And as long as I'm apparently delivering a full class-hour lecture: get a big dog! If you train them well, Rottweilers are safe and obedient - but they are also fiercely loyal to you and your family, and I guarantee you everyone in your neighborhood knows all about them and doesn't want to mess with them. They also give you an excuse to walk around your neighborhood and talk to people - the inane comments that people make about and to dogs are just as good as anything for appearing neighborly. Good luck.
posted by Betsy Vane at 8:19 PM on July 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Please don't say that it was ridiculous to call the police in that situation. Not helpful. Hindsight and all that, plus the stress of the moment. What's done is done.

While it's true that nothing can be done make that situation unhappen, acknowledging that acting differently would've been the right thing to do is TOTALLY helpful because it can make things better moving forward: it really sounds like that last time you called the cops on your neighbors, you did so because you felt threatened by their apology style.

If you're uncomfortable being as outgoing as your former roommate, simply start to use your backyard more often. When you see someone step out onto their patio, just say "Good afternoon". Lots of people do stupid stuff (like dump their garbage onto someone else's property) to people they don't know that they wouldn't do in a million years to people that they know.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:20 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


So are you white folks living in a minority, probably black neighborhood? If that's the dynamic, I think your first step is to work really hard at checking that lingering, usually internal racism. Confront it, if only to yourself. I'm white, and I've never met a white person who didn't have it in there somewhere. Your post reeks of it, frankly.

Next, please, make eye contact and say hi to your neighbors. Go out of your way to do this. Try to pretend they are all lovely, saintly people. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Next, really, stop calling the cops. Please understand that calling the cops can be pretty threatening to some people of color (and reasonably so, in Philly--the worst, most racist slurs I've ever heard in my life came out of the mouth of a Philly cop). When the woman was pounding on the door, after the back yard exchange, she could very well have been nervous that Mrs. S had just called the cops on her at that moment.

Also, regarding the snitching: is this what you are hearing from your neighbors, or is this what white people who live in other parts of town are telling you? Please get information about your neighborhood from your neighbors.

You're calling your neighborhood an "an early up-and-coming neighborhood." Please think about this. I suspect your neighborhood is actually a very well-established neighborhood--for the people of color (black people?) who live there (seriously, early? it's not a new development in the suburbs, is it?). It's not up-and-coming to them: it's home. It's only "early" to the white folks who are eyeing its good location and relatively affordable rents. Gentrification is not always a good thing--it can mean the end of an established community.

You sound scared. You've lived there two years and you are still scared of your neighbors? Please move. Please read the novel "Them" by Nathan McCall. It's about a sorta well-intentioned white couple who moves into a mostly black neighborhood in Atlanta to take advantage of the great prices. Misunderstanding and conflict ensues.

I think you should move--not because people are going to hurt you, but because I don't think you can get to a place where you feel comfortable with your neighbors. This isn't them; it's you.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:21 PM on July 12, 2010 [42 favorites]


I don't think you've got much to apologize for, 'cos, you know, throwing garbage bags onto your patio, but for the sake of future relationships if you know what apartment she is in, I would go over and talk to her and, if she seems reasonable, apologize for involving the cops. The first time you called is somewhat understandable, but the second, as you suggest with your 'hindsight' comment, might have been a bit much. She may have been annoyed because she apologized and vowed to never do it again and then the cops showed up and ticketed her. You don't have to throw a party for the whole block or her whole building, but being able to have a civil conversation with your neighbors goes a long way. Tell her your wife didn't know what the hell was going on and was shook up and you're sorry for the whole misunderstanding. If you can get the cops to drop it, try to do that.

Talk to the neighbor to the west as well. You don't have to go over, but have a chat if you're both out at the same time...talk about the weather, talk about how annoying the bugs are, whatever.
posted by IanMorr at 8:22 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


(By the way, I really did not mean to suggest the garbage thing is okay! That's totally gross.)
posted by bluedaisy at 8:33 PM on July 12, 2010


bluedaisy, I'm not going to go through your comment point-by-point to disagree with you. I just disagree with your impression of me and my intentions. I'm not going to pretend like, yeah, I'm just another resident. Doing so would be pretty patronizing. For better or worse, my neighborhood, like many urban neighborhoods, is changing. I don't want this to be an argument about gentrification. My apologies, however, for offending you by using bad codewords in describing the background of my situation.
posted by supercres at 8:46 PM on July 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


So are you white folks living in a minority, probably black neighborhood? If that's the dynamic, I think your first step is to work really hard at checking that lingering, usually internal racism. Confront it, if only to yourself. I'm white, and I've never met a white person who didn't have it in there somewhere. Your post reeks of it, frankly.

Woah there. No one is a racist for expecting that people not throw garbage into their yard, regardless of the race of the garbage throwers and/or yard owners. The rest of your comment isn't really as unreasonable as the first graph makes it out to be, but seriously? From the OPs description, race and class are important factors in this situation, but calling the poster out as a racist for not wanting trash thrown into their yard (keeping in mind we don't even know the race of the trash thrower in this case) is way way beyond what is called for.

The one sane point you do manage to make when you aren't playing the racist card is that calling the police means different things to different people, and that for some, especially minorities in major cities, a police encounter brings up a lot more fears and bad memories than for others. It's a fair point worth keeping in mind in the future, but you severely undermine it with your racism accusations up top.
posted by zachlipton at 8:54 PM on July 12, 2010 [13 favorites]


I'll add that I find it offensive that you're somehow not supposed to call the police when crimes are committed against you. If this "stop snitching" culture is really that bad and you got scolded for calling the police when your house was broken into, yeah, I'd look into moving.
posted by wondermouse at 8:54 PM on July 12, 2010


Long story short, today Mrs Supercres caught someone on the roof of the building to the north (a house converted to apartments) throwing garbage bags over and into our back patio, then sweeping garbage off her roof into our yard. (FWIW, I wasn't home.) The first time, Mrs S didn't see the woman, so she had no way of knowing who it was. She called the police. Police came, heard the story, and gave her the number of a community-police liaison.

Just FYI, the established protocol would be to bellow WHAT THE HELL WHO'S THROWING GARBAGE IN MY YARD multiple times very very loudly.

No, I'm really totally serious. The culture here is all a kind of bossy "if you have a question or a comment you'd better open your mouth and talk, and I'll do the same like it or not." (Took me awhile to get used to it, now I'm driven mad with impatience over the polite passive-aggressive pussy-footing outside of the city.)

The woman yelled back, apologizing profusely. Mrs S went back inside, but the woman came to our front door, repeatedly banging on the door and ringing the doorbell. Not wanting to deal with a possibly-irate stranger while home alone, Mrs S called the police again. This time, the cops questioned the woman about why in the world she was throwing garbage off her roof into an empty lot. They also got her information and said they would issue a citation directly to her.

Ouch. Okay, just go apologize. Tell her you were all pissed off about the garbage and on edge and it just didn't click that calling the cops was overkill. That the garbage-thrower was being selfish and lazy to sweep garbage into the yard is a given, but that garbage-thrower tried to apologize when she got called out for it didn't deserve the criminal treatment.
posted by desuetude at 8:59 PM on July 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Nice and wow? I agree, that "internal racism" comment is an intense, provocative comment. You must have something to say to it?

For myself, what I'd say to it - having lived in a similar neighborhood though certainly in a smaller city - is that the term "racist" gets used to cover a lot. Much of the time, what its user is attempting to describe is either (1) obliviousness to white privilege and institutionalized obstacles to full participation by ethnic minorities in mainstream society or (2) the fear that many white people of at least moderate privilege feel when confronted by groups of black people of less privilege, namely, the fear that the black people hate them, and whatever the consequences of that hate may be.

I don't mean to go O/T here - it's relevant to try to understand just what dynamics are driving this story, and the word racism on its own isn't going to do it.
posted by Betsy Vane at 9:01 PM on July 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'll add that I find it offensive that you're somehow not supposed to call the police when crimes are committed against you. If this "stop snitching" culture is really that bad and you got scolded for calling the police when your house was broken into, yeah, I'd look into moving.

As gross and illegal as littering and unauthorized dumping is, I don't really consider it a crime committed against the OP the way a robbery or assault would be. It's more a quality-of-life thing.

As for the 'stop snitching,' I believe supercres meant that he learned of it's prevalence by the lack of forthcoming information in identifying the person who broke into the house, rather than a scolding for calling the police.

On preview:

Why isn't bluedaisy's comment gone?


It goes too far in the assumption of outright racism, but there's a good point there about class and privilege.
posted by desuetude at 9:09 PM on July 12, 2010


Here are the things:
Is your piece of the pie obviously bigger than those around you?
Is your piece of the pie easier to take than those around you?
Is your piece of the pie mae of better stuff than those around you?
If someone did take your piece of the pie, how likely is it that you would be able to figure out who took it?
How truly crazy is the person that is eyeing your pie?

Ultimately, is boils down to a cost/risk analysis as to whether it worth the actual hassle to hassle you. Because, if it isn't, people might talk big in the heat of the moment - but unless you are the easiest mark, a would-be-hassler is going to find the low hanging fruit first.

Doint aim to be the most secure. Don't ignore security all together. Aim to be *slightly* above averae so as not to draw extra interest in yourself.

And yes, smill and say "Hi" to your neighbors. Know them. Make sure they know you.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:11 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Relocate.
posted by xbeautychicx at 9:17 PM on July 12, 2010


Bluedaisy didn't say that it's racist to want a garbage-free patio. The issue is that the OP simultaneously wants to think of his neighborhood as an "up and coming" place and also not be uncomfortable with the neighbors whose community is, by the same measure, on it's way out. I don't know how that can be done. I won't comment too much on the gentrification angle, and I do think calling the police about someone throwing garbage at your house is a legit choice, but I also think it sounds like you should move. You don't like your neighbors or your neighborhood. You feel you stick out like sore thumbs but don't feel compelled to make an effort to address that by actually socializing with your neighbors (the non-garbage-throated)--you just want to make sure that sticking out isn't dangerous. (And I'm not knocking your desire to feel safe at home, just wondering why you want to stay in a community you don't like.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:18 PM on July 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


[few comments removed - if you guys need to take this to MeTa, you know where it is.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:19 PM on July 12, 2010


As much as I don't want to have an argument about my guilt battling my insecurity, I should clear a few things up before this thread gets closed.

I've lived here for two years. It's absolutely true that I don't have as much invested in this neighborhood as the people who live around me, but it is my home. I do like it here, and I defend it to anyone who says, "You live south of where?" Even to the cop who came to my house tonight saying the same thing.

That said, I recognize that I'm not part of this established community. I'm fine with that. I wouldn't have moved here if I weren't. (I can see how you might equate that with "I don't like it here".) I'm fine with the fact that this isn't the next Fishtown. (I would be horrified if it were.) I'm not fine with the presumption that my outsider-ness excuses anything -- violent or even just impacting my quality-of-life -- against me or my house or my car etc.

Maybe that's naive, and maybe my strategy of simply trying to fly under the radar enabled this. I do in some ways regret how the evening played out, and how it might have negatively impacted my ability not to stick out like a sore thumb in this community.

But I will argue until my lungs give out with anyone who tells Mrs S that she was being unreasonable for seeking help when a stranger started banging on our front door.

Thanks for the helpful suggestions, and for making me worry less about this mess, believe it or not.
posted by supercres at 9:37 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey folks! I figured I'd weigh in here since I'm Mrs. Supercres.

We've had trash thrown in our back yard for as long as I have been living here. How many dirty (open) diapers left out to rot in the summer heat would you need to clean up before you got furious? How many pieces of trash? For those think that this person wasn't committing a crime, I agree. She wasn't arrested. She'll be issued a citation for exactly what she was doing: dumping her trash into our back yard. She knew she was doing something wrong, yet she was doing it anyway. If I'd caught her doing it the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc time we'd found trash back there, sure, maybe some leniency. Not the 10th time. Not when she knows she's been dumping her trash into her neighbors patio for the last year and it's magically been cleaned up for her. Tomorrow, we'll literally have to pick the trash out of the tree in the opposite house's back yard because it's abandoned and no one else would. We don't particularly like the smell of rotting trash, nor do we like seeing a tree full of trash.

I called the cops because I honestly didn't know who else could help me, and yes, I was perhaps behaving irrationally. I still don't know who else I could have called. I could have called the community liaison, but I still wouldn't have had a clue who this person was, where she lived (the building next to us is an apartment building with probably 4 or 5 apartments, maybe more; I've never seen her or anyone who lives there ever in my entire time living here). I wouldn't have much luck filing a citation/report without that info. And, I don't care where I live, whether I'm in the slums or Orange County, I'm not answering the door to an irate neighbor. The only people we've ever been friendly with (out-going ex-room mate included) were the folks who own the barber shop (the store-front of the apartment building next door) and the sweet elderly lady who lives across the street. If you think ringing door bells for a whole afternoon and asking, "Hey, are you the folks who keep chucking your trash in our back yard?" would get us results, that's just ridiculous and naive.

We don't normally feel threatened by our neighbors. Yes, we've been robbed. Yes, our car has been broken into for the change. No, we don't think we were targeted, other than the fact that he wasn't particularly keen on security issues when he first moved here. He wanted to make sure our future safety isn't in danger because our mystery neighbor was throwing trash into our yard and the 10th time it happened we to caught her and called the police, and we don't want her to lash out at us. Clearly she thinks what she was doing was OK in some way, so who the heck else know what she thinks is acceptable neighbor behavior. (Not to mention the fact that today was trash day. So, she could have put all this trash on the sidewalk this morning, but decided to chuck it into our yard instead.)

Thanks to those of you who gave reasonable responses. I'm sorry to those who didn't. You've clearly had different experiences or are making assumptions about us that aren't true.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:50 PM on July 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


To answer your question - whether or not your neighborhood is going to have it out against you because you "snitched" - is probably no. I'm pretty sure that most people in your neighborhood, petty crime and garbage throwers aside, would agree that there are some things that just warrant a police call. The "stop snitching" stuff is mostly about the drug trade anyway.

Next, really, stop calling the cops. Please understand that calling the cops can be pretty threatening to some people of color

I know it's really cool to be outraged about race/class/inequality issues around here but this advice is just awful. I hate the police as much as the next guy, and I double-hate the prejudiced asshole cops. We all do. But please do not feel like you can't call the cops if your shit is vandalized, stolen, or littered. If people in your neighborhood know that you're the type who is quick to involve police, I highly doubt that they're going to test you.

You said "we'll live" if people don't say hi to you. Well I think that's about the worst that will happen here.
posted by windbox at 10:10 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not answering the door to an irate neighbor.

Ohhh, sorry if I misunderstood. You said that she was banging on your door with apologies. I interpreted that as her being a big loudmouth, not being angry/threatening. That was where my "oh, apologize" thing came from.
posted by desuetude at 10:13 PM on July 12, 2010


Is litter lady going to shoot you? Probably not - she'd have shot when you first said something to her.
Is litter lady going to have you shot? Probably not - she wouldn't be dumping her own trash if she wielded that kind of power in the neighborhood.
Is litter lady the most popular lady in the neighborhood? Probably not - if you caught her dumping garbage, she probably had been caught by someone else before.
Will litter lady strike again? Probably, but not for a long while - her pride has been hurt and she has been called out. While she may have a revenge fantasty for a little while, that will fade in time.

You are as safe in your neighborhood as you were before any of the events (meaning, I'd want 3 years of neighborhood crime statisticis, average property value, disposable income and a host of other data before I'd comment on a saftey forecast.).
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:44 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


In your follow up you say this has been the 10th time. If that had been mentioned in the OP, it probably would have made a difference in the answers you received.
posted by Vaike at 11:08 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well. You will continue to stand out as those people who don't talk with their neighbours and call the cops instead. I mean, this is the story your neighbours are going to hear unless you find a way of becoming more chatty and telling them your version. I don't think anything will change, though. Keep an eye out for trouble but don't worry just yet.

FWIW, I don't understand why you wouldn't open the door and yell right back before escalating and calling the cops. If you're automatically scared of physical violence then that sounds like a scary neighbourhood you should move out of. Otherwise, this is how I, personally, would handle being more communicative with the neighbours.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:04 AM on July 13, 2010


The problem with not talking with your neighbors is that you're unplugged from the normal / safe / accepted system that's used used to confront problems and defuse tensions, i.e. neighborly conversation. You don't have to love doing it. You don't have to sit on your neighbor's porch every summer evening and guzzle cheap beer. But talk is the light that burns off the germs of irrational and unnecessary fears, and is the peaceful way that things get done. Without talk, you have nothing to resort to except the police, which is a shame.

Shoot the shit with your neighbors once in a while. Talk about the weather, the local sports teams -- whatever, but talk. Not because you care about the weather or sports, but because it keeps the gears of society lubricated. You don't have to reorder your life or change your personality to do it. A little squirt of this oil once in a while can do wonders. If you establish the weather-and-sports sort of baseline relationship, it's much easier to knock on a door and say something like, "Hey, I'm having a problem that I'm not sure how to handle. Somebody's been throwing trash into my yard, but I don't know who. If you happen to see anything going on back there, would you mind letting me know about it? Here's my phone number, but you can just knock on my door if you want."
posted by jon1270 at 5:01 AM on July 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


I work in property management. All of our tenants have weekly garbage pick up that is free to them. We have problems with people not disposing of their household garbage properly, either throwing it out of windows, leaving it in the back stairwell for weeks, throwing it in the basement or just onto the sidewalk in front of the house.

We have never been successful in getting anyone to change their habits by reasoning with them or sending them letters saying they will have to move if they continue throwing diapers onto the neighbors roof. We have had people written up by the city codes department, people have lost custody of their children and have lost their housing subsidy (section 8) because they are unable to deal with trash properly.

It's not just us trying to reason with them either. Their neighbors and sometimes even family members have reasoned with them, begged them and threatened them.

The only way that we have been able to stop this problem is by evicting them. It seems like once this is ingrained in someone it's just what they do and nothing anyone says is going to change them.

So you basically have a choice, continue cleaning garbage from your yard and hope the people doing it move, or you can move yourself.
posted by Melsky at 5:43 AM on July 13, 2010


No matter what people are saying here about you needing to talk to your neighbors more, and I'm on your side here with the not going out of my way to say hi, it's completely inconsiderate to just throw your trash over a fence into someone's yard. You were completely in the right to call the cops.

The woman may see it as a "but I didn't know it was wrong and I thought the house was abandoned" but that doesn't matter, if it wasn't her doing this then it would be someone else doing something else that you would have called the cops for. She deserves a citation and won't do it again. I would be very surprised if anyone she talks to about this takes her side as the one of reason.
posted by zombieApoc at 5:45 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you're automatically scared of physical violence then that sounds like a scary neighbourhood you should move out of.

Oh, bullshit. I live in the opposite of the OP's neighborhood: rural, known neighbors (not many, but we interact with 'em), no crime that I know of in the years we've lived here, and as far as I can tell it's the whitest of white people from here to the county line.

And if one of MY neighbors came irately banging on my door, I'd call the cops instead of answering the door. Somebody angrily banging on the door and yelling is a valid reason to call the cops no matter where you live or who you are.
posted by galadriel at 6:57 AM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Somebody angrily banging on the door and yelling is a valid reason to call the cops no matter where you live or who you are.

Ok, maybe my neighbourhood is less civilised than that. Not saying it happens all the time, but I wouldn't freak out over it either.
posted by Omnomnom at 7:00 AM on July 13, 2010


...not because I'm being nice but because it seems to work as a way of enforcing boundaries, in a way that calling the cops (without prior yelling) doesn't.
posted by Omnomnom at 7:02 AM on July 13, 2010


We've had trash thrown in our back yard for as long as I have been living here. How many dirty (open) diapers left out to rot in the summer heat would you need to clean up before you got furious? How many pieces of trash?

I understand this is all awful. But you really just need to talk to your neighbors. You went right to DefCon 1, and as someone noted above, the cops showing up on your doorstep is not usually itnerpreted as an unambiguous harbinger of safety and protection in minority neighborhoods, sad as that is.

What would you have done if you lived in the suburbs? Bad stuff happens there too. If you had a neighbor there whose dog pooped in your yard daily, or who didn't secure their trash and it blew over your lawn. Would you have called the cops there?

Maybe you would, but I'm going to posit that it's not the best way to solve problems. It immediately creates hostility and distance. It might be that you need to involve the cops in community problems like this, but only after you've taken steps to resolve it yourself, in an amicable and neighborly way. For instance, we've been experiencing a problem of really noisy, partying neighbors at my house. We developed a plan of (a) first talking to the neighbor (only fair!), (b) informing the landlord and logging incidents, and (c) calling the police only when there's egregious noise and it's after the 10 PM noise ordinance kicks in. We don't want noise, but what we don't want more is neighbors who fear and resent us and can impact our quality of life in many other subtle and irritating ways. We want a positive relationship.

You're homeowners - you obviously have a stake in the neighborhood. The "under the radar" strategy is not really going to work. Homeowners need to be connected to one another and need to communicate - that's actually what makes strong and safe communities, rather than relying on officials to administrate your neighborhood. It really sounds like neighbor lady was apologetic and willing to solve the problem with you. I understand not wanting to open the door, butif that happens you can just tell her it's not a good time and you'll come see her later. Go together. Wait for things to cool down and make a visit. "We're sorry for calling the cops, I'm sure we can solve this between us, it's just that when you sweep your garbage it ends up in our yard and it's not fair that we have to pick it up. How can we improve this?"
posted by Miko at 7:09 AM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pretty sure it's only "snitching" if you're a third party.

Nope.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:01 AM on July 13, 2010


I cannot think of a situation in which I would call the police because someone was sweeping garbage into my yard.

You live in South Philly? you didn't do things the South Philly way, and now you're going to pay for it. I don't live in South Philly, I had friends that do/did, and there's a code. This is the same place where someone got shot for parking in someone else's shoveled-out space on the street. They take this shit seriously.

The South Philly way is to yell up at the woman - "HEY! YOU'RE SWEEPING GARBAGE INTO MY YARD!" You think it should be obvious to her that she was - well it wasn't. Your wife couldn't see who it was - did she think she was being attacked by a gang whose modus operandi is to sweep garbage into her backyard? What on earth caused her to *call the police* instead of yelling "WHAT ARE YOU DOING"?

You are a sign to everyone around you that pretty soon, they're not going to be able to afford to live there any more. You are a sign that you probably have more money than they do, and therefore things worth stealing that no one else has. I don't keep dirty laundry in my car, much less change in the cupholder. The break-in was to see what you had and didn't have, and how you would respond.

Stop calling the cops. Start shopping at the corner store. Start spending the evenings in your front or back yard where people can see you. Even if people don't say hi to you, YOU should say hi to them. Are there block parties? Community associations? Is there a local church carnival? Find out what it is, and get involved in it.

Or just be the dumb white gentrifiers. But you will continue to get broken into repeatedly if you do, because you will not be seen as 'one of ours,' but rather an outsider, for whom the code is very, very different.

(I haven't lived in Philly but I did live in an area that had a strict insider/outsider code just on the cusp of gentrification. I played hopscotch with the kids, I twirled jump ropes, I said hello in English AND in Spanish, I ate at the local joint, and when I came home one day and my tv was missing, three days later I got it back, with apologies for the "mistake.")
posted by micawber at 8:03 AM on July 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


(in which I own some of my bs, and put some of it on others, in which our lawn stands in for all the problems neighbors have. Also I repeat most of Miko’s comments, so this probably self-indulgent.)

We're a weird, counter-culture, white, rich couple living in a very socially, economically and racially mixed neighborhood, in a particularly mixed block, with middle class black families, queer folk (us included), new Central American immigrants, single-family, and multi-unit buildings. People on my block sometimes offend me. Their poverty offends me. I don't agree with all of their values. Some of them have dark skin, I do not. And while I own my life, not theirs, I want to intervene sometimes about their parenting, and a million other details. But I don't. Being a homeowner is a *long game*. I've been here 6 years, and I'm staying put. I'd like to see *everyone* be happier, and the block as a whole be healthy and vibrant. To make that happen, I need to be patient.

We're not very into (turf) lawn care, and have been slowly replanting our yard back into native grasses. While we debated what plan to take, we let our yard grow. What's the point of mowing if we're just going to kill it anyway? Evidently, it bothered someone. I got angry letters from the city about it. So me mowed, but apparently not quickly enough, or in the right places, and we came home to find the city mowing our front and back lawn, and a $100 fee.

I was livid. It felt like such a violation. Why couldn't whoever had the issue *left us a note*, or *talked to us*. Why involve the city? For the same price, a neighborhood person could have done the job, and spent the money here.

Clearly, how we were choosing to keep our yard offended people. Maybe it worried them about their property values, or their friends complained about it. Maybe they're just passive-aggressive jerks who are afraid of confrontation. Maybe they thought we wouldn't listen. It was clearly neighbor fail on their part *as well*. So, what now? Vengeance? Staying angryvated?

Though some investigation, I discovered who called the city on me. Instead I decided to shame them with kindness. I shoveled snow off their walk, mowed some of their tree-lawn, offered them produce from the garden.

To the OP: That you still haven't talked to the woman or made any attempt to clear the air suggests that maybe you just want the problem to go away. The problem probably won't. Their trash isn't about your house at all, probably. Involving authorities too early increases tension, and can have effects that are far reaching and harsh. If someone is on probation, having cops show up at their house might land them in jail. So make it worth it. It's about distrust and escalation of response. At work, if someone was throwing trash away in your cube, you'd probably talk to them first, *then* their manager, *then* HR.

All the talk about privilege and racism in this thread isn't meant to be a "if we blame someone the problem will go away" response, but meant to be a tool for reflection, and "understanding why we react how we do." I understand feeling unsafe when the lady showed up mad at your front door. No one expects you to open it. I agree that trash stuff is very rude, and that people *always* have the right to escalate / ask for redress. I do ask them to consider why "call the cops" seemed to be the proper way of escalating the situation. Why not "tell the lady that if she doesn't go home you're calling the cops", or "pretend not to be home" or "ignore it". Clearly, she is being some Bad Neighbor, but that doesn't mean you have to be Bad Neighbor in response.

If you're planning to stay, then be prepared to dig in. If you don't care about the lives of your neighbors, and understanding where things are now, then that's one thing, and be as heavy-handed in your response as you like! If *that* is the case, then bluedaisy has some points. OP's responses seem emotionally charged viewing it as an outsider.

[Fwiw, we're in our 30s, haven't spent as much time as we should knowing neighbors, white, queer, living in Powderhorn, Minneapolis, MN, USA]
posted by gregglind at 8:07 AM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's a world of difference between a dog pooping on your lawn and trash blowing from an unsecured bin and someone chucking entire bags of trash in your yard. Those are not comparable at all.

I totally understand why two lights called the cops and I support her decision to do so. Someone early in the thread described the neighbor as lazy. I disagree with this strongly. It has to have taken MORE effort to lug the trash to the roof and throw it away from the building than it does to cart it to the curb and just set it down for pick up. This was a deliberate, offensive act. How can anyone believe that it is OK to just dump in your neighbor's yard, occupied or abandoned? If the neighbor didn't clean it up, then your block would stink like hell.

Expecting people to manage their trash properly is not a race nor a class issue at all. It is a personal pride issue, maybe even a mental health issue. You can be poor and have a well maintained space. You can be rich and live in a complete dump.
posted by onhazier at 8:18 AM on July 13, 2010


There's a world of difference between a dog pooping on your lawn and trash blowing from an unsecured bin and someone chucking entire bags of trash in your yard. Those are not comparable at all.

Sure they are! If you've experienced these things, you'll know it. A neighbor who lets their dog out every day and knows that the dog wanders into your yard and leaves waste there, or who puts trash out in untied bags and the trash blows around, is being every bit as negligent and thoughtless as this neighbor. The setting makes no difference; the result is the same - your property is fouled, and they don't seem to care. Those things can be a serious nuisance, and these can grow into very angry disputes. I draw the comparison only so you can ask yourself: how would you handle it?

The neighbor might not be fully mentally healthy or physically compromised, or in fact lazy and inconsiderate - who knows? No one can know until you try to solve the problem.

The benefit of trying to solve this problem now in person is a more resilient community down the road. Those are community ties you're going to want when it's not trash, but round-the-clock drug dealing, that's happening in your yard. Build ties, don't seek to alienate.
posted by Miko at 8:25 AM on July 13, 2010


I have to remove other people's dog mess from my front yard from time to time. When I've seen someone let their dog leave the mess and walk away, I've asked them to clean it up. Your point is to discuss things as I did in that case. However, the scale and the impact of a daily dog poop is different than a weekly bag of trash or more.

The trash blowing in the yard also was a nuisance when the wind blew and it was the time to put out the papers for recycling. The collection company required them to be untied and in paper bags for pick up. The paper bags could not be closed. A nuisance, yes. A pain to clean up, yes. A deliberate act exposing you to an open diaper of rotting poop. Not even close.

I think we have two readings of the original post. I took it to read that she yelled at the neighbor and went inside. Neighbor came and started pounding on the door/ringing the bell. Then, she called the cops. I feel like some are reading the post to be that she yelled at the neighbor and went inside to immediately call the cops before the neighbor started pounding on the door. The neighbor pounding on the door does not warrant her stepping out to try and politely discuss things. That deserves a phone call to the cops.
posted by onhazier at 8:55 AM on July 13, 2010


I think we have two readings of the original post

If you reread the post, it looks like the police call happened first.

Mrs S saw and yelled at the woman, saying that she'd already gotten the police involved.

I'm not sure I consider the repeated dog poop/trash hypothetical to be at all different from the backyard trash scenario, but that may ultimately be a personal value judgement. The point is: when experience a nuisance from neighbors, in almost all cases, talking to them first is advisable.
posted by Miko at 9:40 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


There were two calls to the police. Once when she found the bag of trash and saw no one. The second after the second bag of trash and the banging on the door.

Mrs S saw and yelled at the woman, saying that she'd already gotten the police involved.

If you reread the post, you'll find that this statement occurs between the two calls. Mrs S was telling the neighbor to a) stop and b) that the police had already been contacted after the first bag of trash that day. Then, she went inside. Then, the neighbor banged on the door. Then the police were called the second time.
posted by onhazier at 10:11 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


One more post, folks. (Again, Mrs. Supercres here.)

I apologize for the quality of details in the OP. Supercres wasn't present for ANY of this.

The trash has been dumped in our and our neighboring (abandoned) yard for who knows how long. Unfortunately, we don't have access to the yard, so the trash does start to stink after a while.

Last night, I heard/saw the trash being thrown from the roof of the other house. I only saw the trash falling. Before, it was a complete mystery as to us where the trash was even coming from. This is pretty important, I think. So, I see the trash falling (I'm sitting in a room with window that look out onto our patio), but I don't see who is doing it. I'm excited, because I finally figured out where it was coming from! Not knowing who to call, I call the police. They come out. I tell them that I don't know who is throwing the trash, so they give me the number of the community liaison and go about their business. I'm satisfied with this, and have every intention of following through with this. The neighbor was NOT involved at this point. They simply referred me to someone else, and that's it.

Except, I kept hearing the trash falling! Three more bags were thrown into our yard, so I went out and stood on the steps of our patio and waited for it to happen again. Finally, I see a woman sweeping HER ROOF (NO idea why this is necessary; AFAIK, there is no roof deck, only access through a window), and I start shouting (a little because I'm angry but mostly because she's on top of a three story high building). I inform her that what she's been doing is horrible and that she needs stop because I've already gotten the police involved. I go back inside. 5 mins later, she starts banging on the door. That's when I call the police again and report the neighbor.



I think this situation is pretty much resolved. I did what I thought was right. I don't think I need to treat my neighbors like delicate flowers when they are doing something that is this inappropriate/wrong KNOWINGLY. Noise is one thing. Trash on our front steps is one thing. This is different. I hope she'll stop, now that it's been made VERY CLEAR that her behavior is unacceptable. Again, she knew what she was doing, etc. Poor Supercres was just unreasonably worried about our safety. I like to think it's because he loves me and he loves this neighborhood. We hope to stay here for a while longer.

Thanks for the great responses. We'll continue being just as friendly as before. We're the victims here as others have said, and I sincerely doubt someone would cause us harm because she was given a citation for dumping trash into our yard. Fortunately it all landed in the tree this time, so we'll be able to clean it up properly.

/end
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:11 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just wanted to say that I think you did the right thing in calling the police. That's what I would have done.

I don't see how talking to her would have helped. Someone who would throw garbage off a roof into your yard, is not someone who has any common decency. Talking to her would be pointless. Call the police every time she does this. Hopefully the cost of those citations will add up and she'll eventually stop.

I would also talk to the landlord next door. It's not acceptable for someone to behave in this manner and maybe if the landlord gets enough complaints she can eventually be evicted.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:24 PM on July 13, 2010


We'll continue being just as friendly as before.

Which, as your husband described above, is not very friendly. I don't begrudge you calling the police, but not talking to your neighbors and continuing not to do so seems to be a poor lesson to take from this. Had you been on decent terms with any of your neighbors, I bet A. you'd have found out a hell of a lot faster who was dumping the trash and B. someone to tell you if they had also had wacky dealings with the same lady or had heard stories from other neighbors or if perhaps the lady has a mental issue going on.

I'm not very outgoing myself, but living in the same neighborhood for quite a while now I've learned, it's good to have other people watch out for you and your house too.
posted by CwgrlUp at 5:39 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can you call the landlord of the trashthrower's building and ask him to find a way to secure the door to the roof?
posted by sciencegeek at 7:15 AM on July 19, 2010


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