What to do about the dudes on the porch?
March 2, 2010 12:50 PM   Subscribe

A group of young men are always hanging out in front of my building, drinking beer and smoking weed. Recently, there was some sort of fight that left my neighbor's window broken, and it's gone unrepaired for weeks. From what I gather, this fight has something to do with my neighbor's apartment being burglarized. Right now, I'm feeling intimidated by my neighbors and don't know how to handle the situation.

I just moved to a new apartment in San Francisco's Mission District. For those unfamiliar, the Mission is a majority-Latino neighborhood that's been gentrifying in recent years. My building is about 1/4 white, 3/4 Latino. My block is basically right smack in-between a rougher part of the neighborhood and a more-gentrified part of the neighborhood. I am white, male, early-30s, about 6' tall. I've lived in urban neighborhoods before where I was in the ethnic minority and there were dudes hanging out on the corner. However, this is the first time the dudes are actually hanging out on my front porch.

The "problem neighbor" is a young Latino man, I'd say high-school age (although possibly early-20s). I have reason to believe that he lives there with his mom. He and his friends are always sitting on the front porch drinking beer, smoking weed and being loud. That part doesn't really bother me so much. What bothers me is that there's been this fight recently.

Basically, one morning I came downstairs and noticed that the big window on his front door was broken and patched over with cardboard. I don't really like this because it makes the building look kinda shady. It's been broken now for a few weeks now, although the neighbor recently replaced the cardboard with an actual piece of wood. I have no idea if he plans on fixing it, but I do know that I now live in a Boarded-Up-Window Building.

The other night, I was moving some stuff into my new place, and I witnessed a fight between my neighbor, his friends, and some dude. From what I overheard, the broken window was the result of a fight between my neighbor, and the dude's 'boy.' Apparently, the dude's 'boy' allegedly tried to rob my neighbor and his mom. There was also talk of "scales" being stolen, and I think it's pretty safe to assume these scales are used for weighing drugs. Great. So apparently my neighbor is a dealer. From what I can tell, this recent fight - the one while I was moving my stuff in - didn't lead to any violence, although there was a lot of shouting and people calling each other the n-word. After the fight, somebody lit a small fire to some trash on the porch. I think they were just doing that for fun.

When I first moved into the building, I introduced myself to the neighbor and one of his friends, and they seemed friendly enough. However, any time they're out on the front porch and I walk by, they either ignore me completely or else there's a noticeable lull in their conversation as I pass by. I don't know how old they are, but I'm pretty sure they're not in school since I've seen them there during the day.

So I really just don't know how to handle the situation. I don't like the fact that my neighbor and his friends always hanging out on the porch partying - it's kind of intimidating, especially for my guests. But I understand that they have more of a right to the neighborhood than me, so whatever, I'm willing to put up with the dudes hanging out on the porch. What I don't like is the broken window and the violence. At the worst, I'm concerned that my neighbor is a dealer, that he might be in a gang, that little scuffles like this might escalate, and that I may wind up as an "innocent bystander." For a long time, my neighborhood was known for gang violence, although apparently it's been much less of an issue in recent years.

As for my desired outcome - I want the window to be fixed; I don't want any more fights or violence; at the very least, I'd like to know how I should relate to my neighbor and his friends. I don't want to get up in their business, but at the same time I don't want them to think of me as a target. Right now, I basically ignore them, although when they're out on the porch, I always make sure to look in their direction at least once, so they know that I am aware of them.

What should I do? Do I really need to move? I just moved in a month ago, and I really love the apartment. Is there any good way to talk to my "problem" neighbor about this? Do I need to involve my landlord or the police? Something tells me that's a really bad idea.
posted by coelacanth! to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about the violence and stuff . . .

But the window - maybe they can't afford to have it fixed. Could you spring for it?
posted by Sassyfras at 12:59 PM on March 2, 2010

You're going to be torn apart here due to your apparent issues with race here. You do have some legitimate concerns, but it seems like most of your problems stem from your discomfort.

For starters - you are allowed to call the police if you are threatened - not intimidated, but physically threatened. This notion - But I understand that they have more of a right to the neighborhood than me, so whatever is not really true. You both pay the rent, you both have a right to feel safe.

Is the broken window bothering you that much? Call your landlord. Is there a gang fight on your front porch? Call the police. Are some teenagers just hanging out? Don't worry about it, I'm sorry they ignore you when you walk past.

Really, I'm sorry for what's about to happen in this thread. You need to take a deep breath and realize that a lot of your issues are probably at least partially based on your racial issues.
posted by Think_Long at 1:01 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't want to talk to you neighbour at all about anything. Just pretend to be invisible. These folks operate according to a different social code than you do, and it is just not worth trying to develop a "relationship", except live and let live.

Instead, you need to talk to your landlord about the broken window and getting it fixed. Perhaps you could find out about local by-laws and boarded up windows. You could also call the police and ask for advice about drug dealing.

If you really like your new place, you're just going to have to get comfortable with the folks in the neighbourhood, and try to remain invisible.

As well, I'm not sure why white/Latino makes a difference.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:03 PM on March 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

And really, you're an old man (relatively speaking) walking by a conversation held between people who are much younger than you. Conversations stop when that happens. It's not a big deal.
posted by theichibun at 1:06 PM on March 2, 2010

Howdy, neighbor! We've got a meetup this Friday - you should come!

There's been an uptick in gang violence in the Mission in the last couple of years, and I've seen way more cops - on foot, bike, and in cars - than in the past. If the guys on your stoop are in a gang, or are affiliated with one, the cops are probably aware of them. Whether this means they'll do anything is another matter.

I'd call the landlord about the window. If I were you, I wouldn't admit to knowing how it came to be broken, just that it needs to be fixed.

The guys on the stoop...well, if one or more of them lives in the building, and they're just hanging out, there's not much you can really do. But the fighting and the loudness - you could try calling the local Mission police station and see if they might send patrols a little more regularly (and conspicuously) at the hours when this kind of loud fightyness tends to happen. I have no idea if this will work.
posted by rtha at 1:07 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Landlord. Like, 2 weeks ago. Another fight breaks out, and calling the police wouldn't be a bad idea. No matter race or creed, it's not really a great idea for citizens to confront each other when there could be negative consequences (the fight you spoke of). The landlord has the authority over the building, and the police are being paid to uphold civility and the law. Work with them in order to get the wrongs righted.
posted by deezil at 1:08 PM on March 2, 2010

You don't want to talk to you neighbour at all about anything. Just pretend to be invisible. These folks operate according to a different social code than you do, and it is just not worth trying to develop a "relationship", except live and let live.

Though I would have phrased it differently, KokoRyu isn't wrong. I lived in the Mission for over a year, in a part of the neighborhood that was probably further east of Mission Street than where you live, on a corner that was a locus of gang activity. I was perfectly safe there.

One of the elements of living in that neighborhood is that there really is a kind of invisible wall between Latino folks and people of color and white folks who move into the neighborhood. They're not interested in you. Don't notice, don't care, don't pay attention to you. And while that says a lot about race and race relations and gentrification in this city, a lot of it unfortunate--the upshot is that you're not actually threatened. They are not even remotely interested in doing anything to hurt you or steal from you. "Innocent bystander" violence of the type you're describing is so rare, frankly, for white people to experience in the Mission that you really don't need to worry. Just let them alone. They'll do the same for you.
posted by liketitanic at 1:10 PM on March 2, 2010

Move. Your neighbors are violent and involved with the drug trade. Yeah, you just moved in and that sucks, but the odds of something bad happening to you only increase the longer you stay.

You're not a racist, by the way.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:10 PM on March 2, 2010 [14 favorites]

I definitely think that you should notify the landlord. If it were my building, I would want to know if there was something broken that needed to be replaced.
posted by msali at 1:11 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're not some sort of awful racist, and in fact you've cut the people responsible for this situation a lot more slack -based on your desire not to offend anyone - than many would have. Your neighbors are dicks, flat out, as drug-dealing wannabe thugs often are. Try to get your landlord to deal with the window, and try to get the cops to handle any fights or future shady activity related to drug dealing. The unfortunate bottom line is that there's only so much your landlord can do; for the most part, there's no law against being a dick. See how tolerable the situation is in the coming months, but moving may well end up being the best thing to do.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:12 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

This isn't about race. It's about jerks ruining the building. Outwardly ignore, move along your business. Once inside, call the police. Passive Aggressive? Yes. But you live there and pay rent and don't need people breaking windows, fighting, hanging out/drugging it up like it's a free for all. Sorry but we had people doing the same sorts of things at our old condo. Police activity was routine until the condo board had them evicted. They're being dicks. They've got to go. Others live there too.
posted by stormpooper at 1:15 PM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

You're going to be torn apart here due to your apparent issues with race here.


As well, I'm not sure why white/Latino makes a difference.

I included this information because it is relevant. I am white, they are Latino, it's a majority-Latino, historically low-income neighborhood. If I did not include that information, the answers I would get here would be less-useful.

Perhaps I do not have the right approach to the situation - I've already admitted as much - but I do believe that race and class are relevant here.
posted by coelacanth! at 1:15 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are many things you can do, but not without changing your relationship with your neighbors. Any solution to the problems you have (i.e. getting their window fixed, stopping them from hanging out in front of your building), will be "getting up in their business."

Also, I'm not really hip to drug lingo, but the leap from "my neighbor's scales were stolen" to "my neighbor is a drug dealer and the leader of a gang that could endanger me, an innocent bystander" seems Grand-Canyon-sized.

And while you and he both have the same right to your neighborhood, and you love your apartment, you might want to consider moving if you want a neighborhood where teenagers don't loiter and broken windows get fixed right away.
posted by sallybrown at 1:16 PM on March 2, 2010

Well, mostly, what Think_Long said.

But additionally, if there was a theft in your building that resulted in broken window, it might not be a bad idea to actually walk/drive over to your local police station and talk to an officer there. Express your concern for the safety in the building (the broken window as a result of the fight) and what you heard was stolen ("scales"), and your eyewitness account. If it helps - and I suspect it does - you can tell the officer that you're reporting this because if something really bad happens, you want them to know that it's not random, and that there's a history. They may already know about the theft, tangentially; drug dealers don't generally report the theft of their supplies but the police have men on the street who carry this information back.

Look, I've been in your shoes: moving into a neighborhood that's rapidly gentrifying but not quite there yet. (Logan Square, Chicago, in my case.) You are the gentrifier. Accept it now. You are an agent of change in that neighborhood, and there is going to be some unease about your presence. A lot of people probably resent you and what you stand for, which to them is someone who wants to narc on their activities of daily living like smoking weed on the front porch. Or in my case, honking and pumping the stereo outside the building for a street party at 1am. Illegal, but not really enforceable in the long-term, so police just let it go.

The police are likely going to let it go. The constant struggle of you calling cops and kids and weed getting swatted off the porch is going to consume you. You're going to get high blood pressure getting frustrated by the injustice of it all. Don't bother.

I moved away when someone got shot at my bus stop. You may or may not need that kind of impetus to determine whether you are willing to stick it out or not. I decided I didn't want to be a pioneer anymore. Your mileage may vary.
posted by juniperesque at 1:19 PM on March 2, 2010

Dude Bro:

Tell your landlord there's a broken window that needs to be fixed. Tell the cops there's fights and weed smoking/dealing in your building. Tell yourself that race is a myth and that you need to get over your gentrification guilt.
posted by ranunculus at 1:20 PM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

If there's a fight, let the police know, for sure. They might not prioritize it as highly as a shooting in another part of the Mission, but its good to let them know.

The loud kids hanging out on the front porch? Thats not going to stop until they want to stop. I really see no other option for you but moving out, if that's unacceptable. Latino or not makes no difference - its the typical "I have loud, annoying neighbors! What can I do?" and those are rarely neatly solvable.

It's the Mission. As liketitanic says, they don't care about you. I say this as a former resident of the Mission myself. Others who are not familiar with the SF Mission might tell you different, that your life is in danger or something. I seriously doubt that.

I also think its a long way from "I thought I heard the word 'scales'" to drug-dealing. Heck, i lived next to a drug dealer in the Mission and what it meant was strange people showing up at all odd hours of the night and day. My visitors didn't care about him and his loud friends. They knew I lived in the Mission and everything that came with that. If all this hectic, nocturnal activity bothers you, it may in the long run be better to move to another neighborhood.
posted by vacapinta at 1:21 PM on March 2, 2010

Perhaps I do not have the right approach to the situation - I've already admitted as much - but I do believe that race and class are relevant here.

Wow, my first comment was written poorly. I'll rephrase.

What I mean to say is that race and class are definitely relevant here - but not in the way you think it is. Your issues with race are preventing you from treating this situation like you normally would. Just because they are Latino in a Latino neighborhood doesn't make you an invader without any rights - yes, gentrification sucks but it's not really your deal; you pay your rent. Stop feeling guilty and just call the police when there's a fight, call your landlord to fix the window, and move if things get out of hand.
posted by Think_Long at 1:22 PM on March 2, 2010

Tell the cops there's fights and weed smoking/dealing in your building.

You can do this if you want there to be a record in case of escalation. But I really wouldn't expect any immediate action from Mission Station. People smoke weed on the street and at bars here.
posted by liketitanic at 1:23 PM on March 2, 2010

I would move, too. Yes, you could get into all sorts of drama with the neighbor, the landlord, the cops, etc... far easier to find a nicer place to live.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:35 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a long time gentrifier with lots of guys on the stoop experience, I would suggest two things: first, talk to your landlord/management company about the situation. Are they aware? Are they planning on doing anything about it? Just so you get a sense of what direction your building is going in.

Second, talk to the guys on the stoop, and all your neighbors. I mean, not "talk" to them, just look them in the eye and say hello just like you should anyone. Look, people aren't stupid, even annoying petty drug dealers; they really don't like you because you are participating in a process that will eventually result in them not living there anymore. But they also know you are doing it cause its cheaper for you to live there than whatever fancy place white people live in SF.

So, humanize yourself, don't be invisible, hold a door once in a while, and you'll be fine.
posted by RajahKing at 1:39 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

when i lived in the city, there was a parking lot next to my apt buliding that was used by city employees during the day. at night, it was empty.

some people who lived at the end of the parking lot in an old revamped warehouse would turn on their car stereo and then hang out INSIDE the apartment...at any time after 11pm...ONLY sunday - thursday. i swear. i guess they all had someplace else to go on the weekends.

we kept asking nicely, they would turn it down and then do the same thing the next night.

the cops didn't care and practically laughed at us for complaining. they didn't care about drugs either. we could sit on the porch and watch people deal drugs in the parking lot. or a car would pull in and just sit there with the stereo on for like 20 minutes with people in it and no one would get out or in.

so we bought a house and moved out of the city. which sucks cause now i have to drive everywhere. but now i don't worry about strangers on my stoop or incredibly raunchy R&B that would make Li'l Kim blush.

yeah, they were mostly black. but it's not a race issue, it's a socioeconomic one. i know i'm not racist and i cna't help it that they were black thugs. you can't help it that they are latino thugs. what matters is they are thugs.

figure out what's important to you: coming home to a place where you feel safe or being the driving force behind gentrification. you're not a bad person for choosing either one.
posted by sio42 at 1:44 PM on March 2, 2010

oh yeah - and they were nice people. we would say "hi" and be neighborly to them and they were likewise. but they weren't gonna stop having parking lot parties.

nor was it going to stop being a place where people who maybe weren't so nice came to hang out and do drugs and pick up hookers (yeah, there were those around too. fun.)

and i wasn't even in a really bad part of town. all the shootings happend like 7 blocks away.
posted by sio42 at 1:46 PM on March 2, 2010

I often see squad cars parked outside Philz Coffee at 24th and Folsom when I'm on my way to/from the 24th St BART station. You could do worse than treat yourself to a cup of the best coffee in the city (well, okay, in the Mission - I don't want to fight with Blue Bottle fans, of which I am also one) and an informal chat with the cops hanging out on the bench outside drinking coffee.

I have no idea if these guys are in a gang or not. I only brought it up because gang violence is not uncommon, and the neighborhood cops know who the players are.
posted by rtha at 1:47 PM on March 2, 2010

Call the landlord, tell him about the window needing to be fixed, and that the neighbor is attracting aggro behavior to the building. Not to get too prison-lawyerly, but there have been cases where landlords have been held liable when bad things happen due to tenants they've been warned about. Document telling him and look into getting a restraining order if there is one whiff of shit flicked your way. We did this with a tenant's kid and kept him away from the building for a couple of years.
posted by rhizome at 1:56 PM on March 2, 2010

> So, humanize yourself, don't be invisible, hold a door once in a while, and you'll be fine.

This. I don't necessarily agree with folks who say to just steer clear of your neighbors. That doesn't mean you need to go confront them on the issues at hand. But you yourself said that they seemed nice enough at first meeting, and while there may or may not be other nefarious things going on in the situations you describe, you're likely to get a fair amount of mileage toward mutual respect if you show enough respect to them to have at least token communications with them.

This could start as simple as saying "Hey guys, what's up?" whenever you walk by. And as familiarity builds, which, gentrification or not, is certainly possible between neighbors, you may get more latitude to have more meaningful discussions. Say, around broken windows, or noise, or whatever. The key is building a rapport, a trust, over time. But whether or not this strategy bears any fruit, there's no chance of it if you're unwilling or unable to start with some basic regular communication. Who knows? You may find out they're just unruly kids. And you may find out that they're into bad stuff you don't want any part of. The point is, you'll likely learn something, and there's not much risk in trying (again, the key being 'gradual'/informal).

In the meantime, if the broken window bothers you, and you're not really in a position to challenge your neighbors about it (perfectly understandable under the circumstances), talk to your landlord. I'd keep an eye on the situation where you're thinking of calling the police, as it doesn't sound like that threshold has been met yet. But if arguments continue, or violence comes into play, you're certainly within your rights to do so. I would second the recommendation of going down to the station for this, as I think you're likely to get more traction.

I've lived in your situation. I got by pretty well by showing my neighbors that I wasn't judgmental, and was basically a stand-up guy, without getting up in their business. Your mileage may vary.
posted by Brak at 2:49 PM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm Latino and have plenty of family members who are like the guys you describe. RajahKing and Brak are right in saying that you should try to communicate. The important part is that you try not to come across as judgmental.

Also, the fact that they were calling each other the n-word doesn't necessarily mean they were angry; it can be a term of endearment, too. And dude, you're living in the Mission--if you can't handle having neighbors who slang weed, it may not be the neighborhood for you.
posted by joedan at 3:11 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Move. The 'scales' plural almost certainly means drug dealing-- no one cares if you steal a scale you use to weigh yourself with and no one would bother to steal one, either. And it's not calm, mellow dealing: the fact of the fight and the stealing establishes that. The worst places for crime are the borderlines between gentrified and nongentrified areas. Why risk being a "bystander" and having to deal with this?
posted by Maias at 3:17 PM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Agreeing with communicate. Smile or say "hey" as you walk by. Be pleasant, nonjudgmental. Chat about Big Events like the broken window -- e.g. "What happened to the window??" "Is the landlord gonna fix it??" "He should totally fix that, do you want me to call?" (Or whatever chat makes sense to you.) Be the nice guy. If it's loud (and not scary) at night, come down, open the door, smile, "Hey, kids, can you keep it down, I'm tryin' to sleep? Thanks!" If heavy stuff happens, call the police. Share some sodas or beer sometimes. Move out if it's too hard and stressy.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 6:29 PM on March 2, 2010

Okay, figure I should give an update on this.

In short, everything's going to be fine.

My first big realization was that the dudes on the porch are actually pretty harmless. Yeah, they're loud, they smoke weed and drink beer on the front porch, but they don't really do anything threatening. There haven't been any more broken windows or fights, outside of some "play fighting" that I've witnessed. Furthermore, even though the dudes are loud, they're pretty much always inside by midnight on a weekday or 2am on a weekend. So they're not keeping me up at night. Still don't know if they're associated with a gang, but I kinda doubt it. At very least, there hasn't been any violence.

So I started to say "Hey!" or "How's it going?" as I walked by. They'd acknowledge me and say "Hi" back. One day, we had our first conversation -- about a bird made its nest in our back stairwell. The guys were personable and friendly.

Finally, one night when they were hanging out on the back stairwell, I brought out some beers. We had a good time! Turns out, the dude who lives in my building has been living there all his life, and runs a restaurant on Mission with his mom. He's a good guy.

So yeah -- dudes on the porch? Decent guys. I think I'm going to stay in my apartment for a while.

BTW -- the view really does kick ass.
posted by coelacanth! at 3:53 PM on June 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

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