Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood?
March 19, 2006 10:47 PM   Subscribe

I just moved down the street from a crack house... Safety tips?

I just moved to north Oakland. Turns out there is a crack / pimp house three doors to the south, across the street (we're right on the corner). To the east, the corner at the end of the block is apparently "owned" by some gang, so a male housemate (who's big and completely laid-back) never goes that way because two SUVs can come from either side and "pinch" you. There have been five murders on my corner in the last six years, all drug-related (someone selling on someone's turf, not paying what they owed). There's this 11 PM - 2 AM rush hour when people gather in the street and yell about things (last night's refrain: "I'm the best ho I know!") Of course, there are car break-ins, and this house's owner had his car stolen a few years ago.

Enter me. White female, just under thirty. Last night I went running at 10:30 PM, so I'm not the paranoid type. I've always considered fear of crime to be a waste, I don't want it cramp my style more than absolutely necessary, and it's kind of impossible to never walk home late. There are people outside, so it's not like some deadly chemical fallout is occurring -- I just have to figure out how not to be a target.

So, I'd like tips for making smart decisions and behaving in a way that keeps me as safe as possible. How can I tell who's just hanging out and who's actually dealing drugs? Under what circumstances would dealers treat me as a problem? Do I really need to completely avoid this "gang-owned" corner (it's the fastest route many places and I've gone through there a lot without even noticing anyone)? What kinds of drug users are dangerous, how can you tell? Walking down the street, should I generally greet people respectfully or have closed-off body language? Look around openly or mind my own business? (I'd like to maximize "don’t mess with her, that’s the girl who lives on the corner" or even "she's a cool girl" without triggering "what are you looking at??" or "I think that girl is watching us.") How to react if someone were to get hostile? Anyone had to go into dangerous neighborhoods for work and learned to be part of the landscape rather than a potential target?

Thoughts? Resources?

P.S. I read this thread, so the few suggestions relevant have been absorbed.
posted by salvia to Human Relations (46 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: well for starters i wouldnt be out running at 10:30pm in that neighborhood. crime in oakland is very real, and sort of out of control right now.

north oakland police

also, there are a number of Yahoo groups, though the "OPD" group seems to be invitation-only. you might start by joining RockridgeNeighborhoodWatch and asking what the appropriate group is for your neighborhood.
posted by joeblough at 11:05 PM on March 19, 2006


Safety tip No.1: Please move. Somebody has to live there, but not you.
posted by growabrain at 11:09 PM on March 19, 2006


Yes, I agree. From your description, this is not a safe neighbourhood for anyone, including you. Move immediately to a better neighbourhood, no matter how big a hassle this is. Once again: Move. Now. Please.
posted by Dasein at 11:13 PM on March 19, 2006


I'd have to agree with growabrain's comment: you really should consider moving to a different neighborhood.

That said, if you want to / need to stay, make sure you have some sort of non-lethal self defense weaponry like a taser or pepper spray. Take a buddy / friend / boyfriend / personal bodyguard with you when it's late... think safety in numbers.
posted by fvox13 at 11:15 PM on March 19, 2006


by the way, 261PC = rape. at 8pm. in a relatively nice part of oakland. please be careful.
posted by joeblough at 11:15 PM on March 19, 2006


I'll third the move now for best safety. I never came close to what you've landed in and I moved out the same day it went to shit.

Here's a good place to start, Google Maps + Craigslist Housing for the East Bay.
posted by fenriq at 11:21 PM on March 19, 2006


Response by poster: One of my housemates went to a neighborhood policing meeting and was told by the cop leading the meeting that this was one of the safest neighborhoods in Oakland (not like Rockridge or Lake Merritt though -- it's off San Pablo near Emeryville).
posted by salvia at 11:22 PM on March 19, 2006


"I just have to figure out how not to be a target."

Move away from the firing range.
posted by fleacircus at 11:23 PM on March 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: And gotta tell y'all, thanks for the concern, but the housemates I live with have been here for six years and they think it's basically okay, so I'm not gonna move.
posted by salvia at 11:23 PM on March 19, 2006


I have friends of friends in North Oakland and instead of walking from the Bart to their home, they call and get a ride if it's dark.

As a rule of thumb, cops don't respond until there is a victim. They do much more criminal catching than prevention. Don't be a victim. Don't run after dark in that neighborhood, eventually someone will take notice and try to take advantage. If you are attacked by a large enough man, one punch and it's pretty much over. Even if you were prepared to defend yourself with pepper spray or even a gun, what happens if they have a co-assailant approaching from another direction? The best thing to do is avoid even the possibility of such situations whenever practicable, and to avoid basically advertising that you have a consistent route at a consistent time through a bad neighborhood. Most crimes happen between people who already know eachother, often in drug-related disputes over money or someone attempts to take the other's 'product' for free. Don't try to get to know any of them, keep the odds low.

What kinds of drug users are dangerous, how can you tell? Walking down the street, should I generally greet people respectfully or have closed-off body language?

If you're asking the question, then you probably don't have much experience around drug users and it would be difficult to tell the difference between who's on what. Extremely dialated pupils typically indicate cocaine. In any event, people are affected differently by certain drugs, so it's not safe to play a guessing game, especially at night. Rather, assume that any of them have the potential to attack you. If someone approaches you and asks you for cash, whatever you do, just keep walking, you can talk if you like but don't stop moving. Stay on main roads in well lit areas, use common sense, and fer chrissake please don't become an unfortunate statistic.

As for who is dealing? Heh, everybody is dealing. Seriously, answering that question won't really help you.
posted by tweak at 11:25 PM on March 19, 2006


i thought where i lived (rockridge) was basically okay until i started paying attention to the crime statistics. i was motivated to do this after a home invasion robbery occurred right around the corner from my house.

one can make the argument that paying attention to the statistics magnifies the perceived risk, but overall i certainly feel better knowing what's going on in my neighborhood.

so saying your neighborhood is almost as safe as rockridge or lake merritt isnt saying much anymore. a few months back there was a rash of assaults in and around lake merritt, and the last couple of months here in rockridge have been very bad assault/robbery wise. to the OPD's credit they did round up the individuals responsible for both crime sprees, but it took them weeks to finally catch the guys (kids :( )
posted by joeblough at 11:32 PM on March 19, 2006


Best answer: Fellow Oaklander here! :wave:

1. Don't run at night! Anywhere! Sheesh!

2. Join the neighborhood watch. Sounds corny, but you can get the inside scoop.

3. Other citizens have joined together and sued building owners to get rid of nuisance houses. Talk to your neighbors. You can do this. Call the City Attorney's office (510.238.3601) -- John Russo's running for Assembly, he could use the good press.

4. North Oakland is pretty safe. Don't let folks scare you.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 11:43 PM on March 19, 2006


And gotta tell y'all, thanks for the concern, but the housemates I live with have been here for six years and they think it's basically okay, so I'm not gonna move.

It's a little juvenile to ask us to help you avoid becoming a victim if you're just going to play it off like it's all okay after all. You can throw down all the tough-grrl attitude you want, but I'm not buying it—you wouldn't be here if you weren't scared. Fuck, I would be too.

Just because you're not buddy-buddy with the dealers doesn't mean you won't be some random target, mistaken for someone else, or just gunned down for some crackhead's idea of sport. And that's not counting the vastly increased potential for rape, robbery, and other violent crimes.

You're asking us how best to be safe, you've got your answer. Get away.

You've asked us before how to be wiser... please, take the good advice that is given to you. You can't grow and become the person you want to be if you're just another goddamn body count on the local news.
posted by symphonik at 11:48 PM on March 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I used to live in a neighbourhood like that and I think it had less crime than the nicer neighbourhoods immediately adjacent where all the crackheads went to steal stuff and sleep in the parks. For the most part everyone left everyone else alone. It was a real mix of total down and outs, artisty types, young professionals, two halfway houses (worst. location. ever.) and professional criminals.

What I always did was ignore everyone except to give them cigarettes if they asked nicely which worked fine. My friends and I often walked home from the bars in the middle of the night and I never felt unsafe there. They still live there and aside from a few problems with particularly impossible neighbours have had no problems in 8 years. In fact I feel a lot less afe in my current yuppie neighbourhood which is always deserted after dusk and not well lit. Having said that for Pete's sake don't go running after dark! You probably don't have a lot to fear from the actual dealers and users but you live in a neighbourhood that is likely crawling with prostitutes, therefore attracting all kinds of sexual predators. You probably stick out like a sore thumb running there. Don't be an idiot.
posted by fshgrl at 11:53 PM on March 19, 2006


It is probably fair to let you know that by a few "problem neighbours" I mean a swat team once raided their duplex, some biker chick rented the apartment next to me and 10 Hells Angels moved in and some girls tried to open a combo illegal daycare/ brothel (I kid you not) right next door.
posted by fshgrl at 11:57 PM on March 19, 2006


Best answer: Assuming your perceptions of the area are accurate, I work (and have lived) in neighborhoods like that, although I don't think I'd choose to live in one again. The "please move" comments are understandable, but not all that helpful.

in my experience you have two things to worry about, property crime (which could get violent) and getting caught in the middle of something bad. Here are a couple of things that might help you:

You need to develop a sense of who is in control of themselves and who isn't - who is making rational judgements of some kind, even if their logic is running the most profitable crack house and not going to jail, and who isn't. You need to stay the fuck away from anyone who is really high, crazy, or angry. They have much less concern for long term self preservation, ie going to jail. People's fear of going to jail is your friend in this situation, I'm afraid. Unfortunately, spotting irrational people (especially the high ones) comes mostly with experience. If there's anyone who you can talk to about how crack users tend to look, act, etc, that will help. Broadly, you need to be most afraid of anyone who's on a stimulant like crack or meth, and stay as far away from them as you can.

You need to provide an reasonable and instantly visible reason for being in the area. I'm a young white female union organizer, and in areas like yours I get pegged as a plain clothes cop. I have short hair and tend to wear a dark shirt and pants. In Chester, near Philly, a guy came up to me, pointed me out to neighbors, and loudly declared that I was FBI, that he knew what I was up to, and that I shouldn't come back. By contrast, my red headed, skirt wearing colleague was seen as a social worker - people were wary and resentful of her, and defensive when they were with their kids. Our solution to all this is to wear union t-shirts. I hate wearing a big baggy, bright shirt, but it makes it much clearer why I'm knocking on doors in the area I'm in. I don't know what you could do that would be similar, but think about how you present yourself. You will probably never be part of the landscape (and you might not want to be, also, I'm assuming you're white) but you can provide a plausible explanation for being there.

My experience is that the best approach to scary guys hanging around is brief eye contact, a slight nod, and then studiously averting your eyes from whatever they're doing. If you see someone around a lot, you know they recognize you and you're certain they're sane and un-high, you can step the nod up a little, but I wouldn't want to get into a conversation. If you're super friendly, people will probably think you're naive, which means either easy to trick or rob, or likely to freak out and call the police. Make sure you don't come off like you're trying to be *Cool*, or like you think stuff is fun or a game, winks won't be appreciated.

My advice is that you should totally ignore women, unless they say something to you, when you should not ignore them, and need to develop a sense of why they're talking to you and how to respond. I don't have any easy answers to that, it can be a very difficult, very charged situation. They are not your natural allies. On a similar note, if there are hookers around a lot, make sure you don't look like you are a hooker. That may be easier said than done (no offense intended), but not doing it can start a lot of trouble. Try very hard not to witness anything seriously illegal, don't peek out of the blinds if something is going on.

Generally, you're looking to walk a fine line between looking like a threat and looking like a target. Anyone who's seriously impaired is obviously much worse at judging where you fall on that. The threat/target thing is also why you shouldn't assume that risks for your male housemates are risks to you. He is much more likely to seem a threat - even more so if he's big. I think you need to be mostly afraid of women, and people who are impaired in some way.

Obvious "not looking like a target" stuff applies, combined with damage limitation if something bad happens. I never carry a bag, and I always carry two separate wallets, one with just my license, one credit card and a $20 bill. Be careful going into your house, one thing you really don't want is for anyone to go in with you. You can carry self defense type stuff, but honestly, I think that when you spend much time in a bad area it's next to useless. I generally think a gun is a good idea for self defense (this suggestion void where prohibited by law), but it's much less so when there are a lot of guns around, and an attacker is likely to have one. It's also a big theft target. Don't wear anything that's an obvious target for an impulse attacker - someone who can't plan anything complicated, but needs to pay for their next hit.

What are you doing about your house though? Doesn't it get broken into all the time? Also re the house - be aware that your housemates behavior can impact on you. Don't ever think that something really bad can't happen, or that you can control it. Be aware that calling the police if something does happen might not be an easy decision to make, and it might be downright stupid if you want to keep living there.

This is all I can think of for now, this is just my experience from living on my own in some of the worst parts of East London, and from organizing in Philly, South East DC, PG County and other places.

Good luck!
posted by crabintheocean at 12:35 AM on March 20, 2006 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: So, for anyone else interested, here are the most useful things I've found googling around thus far: what to yell if you're being attacked, and rhetorical responses to harassment (hard to figure out, but has some interesting ideas).
posted by salvia at 12:35 AM on March 20, 2006


I want to add a serious caveat that I'm assuming your perception of the dangerousness of the area is accurate (huh, you just said it was basically safe.... which is it?) and that you've really decided you have to be there for one reason or another. I hate to spread shit about how poor black people will kill you as soon as look at you, and if you do think it's a fun adventure, that irritates me!
posted by crabintheocean at 12:40 AM on March 20, 2006


Anyone had to go into dangerous neighborhoods for work and learned to be part of the landscape rather than a potential target?

You want safety tips, eh?

No smart person wants to live down the street from a crack house and gang territory. Even the crackheads and gangsters don't want to live near one another -- they don't want to live near themselves. If you don't have to be there but you choose to be there, you are... not thinking this through? In bad neighborhoods, pretty much any part of the landscape is likely to be stolen or fucked up or knocked down and pissed on.

So shut down the crack house and generally clean up the neighborhood. Or grow a bulletproof exoskeleton. Or move to a good place. Whichever you think is more likely to happen.

Pay the most you can afford to live in a good (safe, clean, healthy) place. Give up bar money (mix your own at your parties) and cafe money (coffee at home on a safe porch tastes better) and book money (go to the library) and clothes money (wear used clothes), even give up some food money (because you're probably more wasteful than you need to be), to pay the rent for a small but good home in a good neighborhood. Trade away apartment size to get a good apartment location -- this is one of the proven keys to happiness. If you need company (and someone to share the rent), find a good spot where your friends can move with you. Encourage all of your smart, happy, healthy friends to move out that way with you (start calling and writing to everyone in your address book every time an apartment opens up near you) and build your own smart, happy, healthy neighborhood.

Those are the best safety tips anyone can give you.
posted by pracowity at 1:03 AM on March 20, 2006


Also... You don't go out in the street at the "rush hour", or go on the street drunk or high, or jog with headphones on, right?
posted by crabintheocean at 1:12 AM on March 20, 2006


Remember that whatever you do to become more streetwise, violence can be random and unpredictable. You could be fine for months and start to feel secure, the regular dealers get used to seeing you around, then just happen to encounter the wrong people at the wrong time. You have to cultivate a sense of alertness all the time and think realistically about what you would do if something serious happened.
posted by lunkfish at 2:12 AM on March 20, 2006


Best answer: As you know those neighborhoods really can change from block to block. Learn those boundaries.
posted by aspo at 2:18 AM on March 20, 2006


I lived relatively near there (28th and telegraph) for a while so I think I know where you're coming from. Like you I did some pretty silly things, like walking alone late at night. Of course I am male and not exactly small so I think I tend to ignore these types of things more than I should.

That said, even living next to the crack smoking neighbors and walking around late at night alone I never had any run-ins with theft or violence. My car was only broken into years later after I moved to El Cerrito.

That said I would say minimize the late night strolls and don't drive a flashy vehicle. If you do park a vehicle in the area, take all the normal steps, namely not leaving anything valuable in it. As far as personal safety I think being aware of your situation at all times is probably the best thing you can do. I don't mean constantly looking around but just try to always be aware of people and how they are behaving. I would not suggest trying anything more social than an occasional quick nod and brief eye contact. If someone asks something of you I wouldn't say much more than "No, sorry." And don't dilly-dally, be brisk and always walk with purpose. Having a backup second wallet (or just ID+$20) as mentioned is a good idea, because should it come down to it you want to hand over any posessions without pause. Better yet, just don't carry anything on you non-essential to whatever it is you are doing at 10:30 PM. And for god's sake don't jog with an ipod or anything like that.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:22 AM on March 20, 2006


Best answer: I live close to one of the places in town where most of the drug-addicts hang out. In a much smaller scale that where you live though, and not nearly so aggressive. Anyway, I have some small survival tricks. I never walk through one of their groups and studiously avoid looking at their going-ons. Looking as you are focused on something else is a good trick to avoid unwanted attention, also in this case I have found. And if necessary, after dark, or if people look threatening (hanging around in small groups, looking fretful) take the long well, lit and populated road, better that than dead. The tip of learning the boundaries is a good one too.

Now, after having lived here for about 6 years I have actually gotten to know some of them (and sadly recognised an old classmate), so I can, on good days chat a bit with them (making sure they speak first, since I can't always see in what mood they're in). Mostly "my" guys are all right, scolding me (and other women) for walking around alone in unlit, unpopulated places after dark, after all we can be raped.

That said, it sounds like both you and your housemates are worrying about your safety, so I say get out of there as soon as possible.
posted by mummimamma at 4:16 AM on March 20, 2006


It's hard to reliably get along with people who have a lot of time on their hands, are into illegal doings and tend to paranoia.

Do everything you can to protect your property. I don't know. I get the feeling this is some kind of safari for you. Maybe a book? I've lived in shitty neighborhoods, and decided it wasn't worth the collection of small appliances I had burgled from me. After I left, I realized the constant paranoia took its toll as well. Dealing with people day in and day out whose biggest idea is where to get some pot, or how to get their hands on your microwave is not just depressing, it's boring.

When you say everything's been cool for six years, that's like saying, well, hurricanes do strike here, but it hasn't happened in years. One event, just one, could be an eye-opener. And as others have pointed out, it's not just you, it's your housemates.
posted by atchafalaya at 4:56 AM on March 20, 2006


Best answer: I work in an area very similar to what you've described. I take the bus, so I walk through it in the mornings and at night, sometimes when it's pretty dark out. I've never had any problems.

You're right to reject the hyper-fear that can plague people moving to high-crime neighborhoods. It will drive you to stress and separate you from the community--and believe me, even if you never do anything as blantantly obvious as crossing the street when gang members or whatever approach, your fear will shine through and they will resent it.

My advice is to be friendly. When you pass people on the street look them in the eye, smile, and tell them good afternoon. That's the most important thing. It will keep you visible in the area and create a positive relationship with the people you should supposedly be afraid of. If someone hits on you, politely decline ("I have to go to work, sorry" "I don't give out my phone number" "I have a boyfriend"). And do things for people in the community. In all likelihood, those drug dealers have grandmothers or relatives living in the same neighborhood as you. If they need the lawn mowed, the front yard fixed up a bit, if they get sick and need food bought over, just do it.

Basically, all you have to do is become an active member of the community where you live. Yes, even in areas chock-full of drug addicts and prostitutes and gang members there is still a community. It's human nature, you can't avoid it. The people who live there still appreciate expressions of kindness and friendliness; they will still resent someone who's cold or detached or fearful of them.

But don't be stupid about it. Even if you do develop a good relationship with the most hardenened gang members, don't go jogging at 10:30 at night. Don't leave your doors unlocked. Don't take midnight strolls alone. Don't drive a super-fancy car.
posted by schroedinger at 5:03 AM on March 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Salvia - if you haven't figured it out already, the second link you provided is to a batshitinsane website. Read this thread about it if that isn't already obvious. In no circumstances should you attempt any of these responses against someone who may decide to shoot you if he thinks he's being made fun of.
posted by Gortuk at 5:31 AM on March 20, 2006


I used to try and pretend that my area wasn't as bad as people said it was. Until I went for a walk one night and a group of guys down the street started shooting at each other.

Stop burrying your head in the sand and quit jogging at 10:30 at night!
posted by DieHipsterDie at 6:49 AM on March 20, 2006


Having spent a little tme living in Oakland, I'll second what aspo said: learn the boundaries. Some corners are better than others. Take reasonable detours, use high-traffic routes, and avoid spots where people are looking for trouble.

There are other good suggestions in this thread, but turning one way out of your front door rather than the other is a good starting point. Low-hanging fruit.
posted by grimmelm at 7:05 AM on March 20, 2006


Possible downsides to moving: [insert downsides here]

Possible downsides to not moving: death

You do the math.

"My room-mates said they never had any problems" is not the kind of thing you want inscribed on your tombstone.
posted by unSane at 7:14 AM on March 20, 2006


(1) Don't buy crack there--go somewhere else if you must.
(2) Move.
(3) Then call police.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:21 AM on March 20, 2006


Amen. And being told by a police representative at a community meeting that your neighborhood is safe, that's like being told by a used car salesman that "all cars make that noise." But hey, if you don't want to move, so be it. Prove that you're not intimidated. Make your little stand. There's always a girl who wears an ultra-mini in the bad neighborhood past midnight simply because she wants to prove a point. Usually the point that gets proved ain't hers.
posted by cribcage at 7:33 AM on March 20, 2006


Best answer: I grew up in New York City during the time when the murder rate was sky high. Children are obviously the easiest prey, and I rode the subway alone, walked all over by myself, etc.

That said, IMHO, all crime begins way before there is any interaction. The sort of folks you are describing are predators, and if you look like and act like prey, you will get mugged, raped, beaten, or carjacked (I don't want to be extreme, but you need to take this situation very seriously).

So I'm assuming you are tired being told to move and determined, for whatever reason, to live there. Here are some suggestions:

1. Never dress in a sexual way

2. Walk with purpose but not too quickly

3. Be aware of your surroundings, identify places - grocercy stores, other shops, where you can nip into if you are being followed. If you are followed, go in, say - that man is following me. Please call the police.

4. Identify the nice houses on your block. If you are feeling nervous or think you are about to be attaked, pick up a big rock, throw it through their window and yell "Fire", "Call the police" - people will hide if you yell "rape" but fire could be their house or car

5. Put 911 on the speed dial on your cellphone. Walk down the street ready to call

6. Don't go running in your neighborhood. Go from work, go from a friends house. I'm sure you are tired of people telling you this, but running is a basic prey behavior. And if you do run in your neighborhood, never run at night - 6-9 am is a good time because most people up to nefarious activity are heading to bed by then. Of course, don't wear headphones - it says I have an Ipod or whatever that you can steal for drugs and I'm not paying attention

7. Be careful going in and out of your house. Get religious about checking to see if there is anyone behind you. YOU DO NOT WANT A CRIMINAL IN YOUR HOUSE WITH YOU. If someone is too close, abort. Walk down the block, walk to the nearest police station, walk away. Same goes for your car, if you have one. Make sure your doors and windows are always locked.

8. Don't befriend crack dealers or junkies. They are not your friend. You are at best a savings account.

9. The best thing you can do to avoid being a victim is not to engage. You are trying to be scenery. There is no way familiarity will build security, so don't be familar.

10. Become aware of predator behaviors. Alot will go on before someone attacks - eyeing you, circling, asking for money - if someone starts this, get out of of there.

11. Don't trust anyone who you don't know. There was a case of a woman in SF who became familiar with some homeless guys. She thought she knew them (for a couple years) so they were ok. One day they asked her for a favor - she ended up at bottom of stairwell (they or their friends threw her off the top after they raped her).

12. Of course, never flash cash, carry your keys in your hand (thread the keys through your fingers if you feel nervous, if you hit someone, it will hurt more - I've never had to use it but I'm sure it made me more confident and less likely to be attacked) .

13. As has been prevously mentioned carry a mugger wallet or purse so that if you get mugged you have something to give. If you do get mugged don't just hand it over. THROW it (in the opposite direction that you want to run) then run. They then have to choose between you and the money.

14. If you do get attacked NEVER fall for the pull your pants down trick. They will tell you that its so you can't run. Thats a lie, its so they can rape you.

15. If you find yourself confronting someone with a handgun, run like hell. The effiicacy and range gets worse with every step you take and therefore the faster you run, the less likely they are to be able to actually hit what they aim at (you, in this case).

16. NEVER ever get in a car with anyone, even if you think you know them after greeting them on your street.

Overall be vigiliant and untrusting. Watch your back, use windows to tell who is behind you. Assess the situation when you step out of your house, and if its unfavorable, tell your friends to come pick you up. Tell your housemates where you are going. Awareness is your best defense.
posted by zia at 7:44 AM on March 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


Best answer: crabintheocean provides some really terrific advice.

I do the head-nod acknowledgement thing too, which comes off better than staring-straight-ahead ignoring everyone (which looks scared and uppity at the same time.) Be nicer to your non-drug-house neighbors, though. A friendly "good morning" goes a long way.

From my experience, I'll reiterate the following:
Walk the other way when you leave your house, avoiding the bad corner. Take your roommate's advice about where to avoid. Don't walk through your neighborhood dressed even a little bit provocatively. (If you wouldn't wear it to work or church, change at your destination.) Stay the heck away from rush hour. Hanging around will make people think that you want drugs.

I don't think the drumbeat of move, move, move is very helpful. That said, salvia, the reason you're getting so much of that is questions like "Look around openly or mind my own business?" and the fact that you went running at night.
posted by desuetude at 8:26 AM on March 20, 2006


On preview, if you are running a half hour before "rush hour" you are asking for trouble. DON'T DO IT!!! Also, don't wear sexy female running clothes, tights or shorts or anything like that (this is not the marina) - wear baggy sweats.

Finally, if the gangbangers are "pinching" people with their SUVs who are just passerbys, that is NOT a safe corner and you should avoid it.

In fact, given what you have outlined here - you should move. You sound like a nice person who doesn't have that much experience with living in a tough neighborhood. This neighborhood sounds problematic at best. From the way you describe it, the behaviors you are doing in it, and the questions you ask, I would say you run a very high risk of a bad incident and you should get out while the getting is good.
posted by zia at 8:41 AM on March 20, 2006


Best answer: 5. Put 911 on the speed dial on your cellphone. Walk down the street ready to call

actually, do NOT do this. in northern california, your cellphone 911 call is sent to a central dispatch, which happens to be owned by the CHP. the extra delay incurred while they try to sort out which police department to call could be fatal.

instead use the OPD emergency number: (510) 777-3211. disclaimer: check www.oaklandpolice.com to verify the number, please.
posted by joeblough at 8:43 AM on March 20, 2006


You mentioned that your roommates have had no trouble, I am curious as to if those roommates are all male or not. If so, they do not run the same type of risk you might so what they are saying is very specific to their gender in some ways. If not then disregard.
But, my wider point is still valid, each person is going to behave differently in your situation. Perhaps you'll be ok with some minor behavior adjustments (as people have mentioned, increased awareness is perhaps the biggest key), if you're ok living in an area where you have to be constantly on your guard once you step outside then you'll do ok. Your general risk may be higher, but not insanely so. For myself I'd get pretty tired of it pretty quickly, and I'd assume once you get tired of it, and lazy about safe practices you become much more of a target and at risk.

Good luck in whatever you do.
posted by edgeways at 10:13 AM on March 20, 2006


Response by poster: Wow, I am really surprised at some of these comments -- this is a "safari" for me? I'm "making a stand?" Sorry, but, are you all sure about that?

I picked this place in spite of neighborhood conditions, as part of a deliberate decision. It's a nice refurbished Victorian, and cheap enough rent that I can accomplish another major goal. I've lived in primarily black neighborhoods before without this sort of fear, so I'm certainly not someone who thinks "poor black people will kill you as soon as look at you," if that sentiment was being attributed to me (I'm not sure it was though).

Maybe I made it sound worse than it is -- as I say, there are six people who live in this house, three of which have been here for at least six years (one = 3 decades) and here's what they've dealt with: one's car was stolen, one has been called a "stuck-up whore," and one has had nothing bad happen. That's a decent track record. So, despite the facts I have been notified of, which are what I outlined, I agreed with Rhomboid when s/he says:

"That said, even living next to the crack smoking neighbors and walking around late at night alone I never had any run-ins with theft or violence. My car was only broken into years later after I moved to El Cerrito."

I used to live at 7th & Natoma (Civic Center area in SF), so yeah, I can tell what drug users look like. I'm still a bit vague about this drug versus that drug, and I would always like to improve my ability to assess a situation. I guess I painted myself as completely ditzy in my original post -- I can understand some of these reactions. But it's not actually the case, and a lot of what I've been told, I already do (e.g. not engage, walk purposefully, avoid fearful body language). I was just looking for additional tips on being streetwise from people with experience's like crabintheocean (thank you!) and resources that hadn't occurred to me like the community groups.

Yeah, I'm aware running is not the smartest thing I can do, and I haven't done it much, but I'm in a different neighborhood in about 3 minutes of jogging, so, yeah. I didn't come here to flaunt my foolhardiness, nor to get cut down to size. If I promise not to run and just sound meek and scared, "...but some nights I just can't avoid coming back after dark," could those of you who want to lecture me be a little more constructive?

I really appreciate the concrete suggestions and the helpful resources. Thank you so much for your help.
posted by salvia at 10:17 AM on March 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Read everything on this site: no nonsense self-defense. Lots of good ideas on crime, prevention, self-defense. I've linked to it before and I think it's absolutely worth reading. They are based in Colorado and do offer classes that I've not taken.
posted by 6550 at 10:35 AM on March 20, 2006


Best answer: After some sleep, I want to elaborate on something I kind-of said earlier: Your whiteness keeps you safe(r).

The women I work with, strong women in their 40's and 50's who are a real part of their communities, who have lived in areas like yours their whole lives, who are leaders, and brave enough to take the risk of losing their jobs, will generally not be on the street after dark. And almost without exception, they want to move to a better area.

Becoming a part of the community will not keep you safe, but your whiteness often can, because whiteness = the ability to get someone sent to prison. You can probably get the police to come to your car break-in, your neighbors probably can't. If you get shot it will be in the paper, if they get shot, it won't.

Your goal is to avoid making the prison risk worth it for someone by:
(a) Pissing someone off to the point that they don't care (like disrespecting a girl in front of a lot of people).
(b) Looking like such an easy or profitable target that the risk is worth it (like wearing headphones, or a Rolex).
(c) Dealing with someone who is desperate or impulsive enough to take the risk (like someone who badly needs to buy more drugs).
(d) Dealing with someone who hasn't yet learned that the possibility of prison really applies to them (teenage boys, especially in groups).

So you need to try to avoid situations where this stuff applies, but you should also maybe think about what it says about your relationship to the community. I'm not big on "privilege" type language, but if a local guy gives you a smile and a "good morning", you might think a bit about how that might be more complicated than you being seen as "a cool girl".

Another thing to think about: How would you feel if someone bled to death on the sidewalk outside your house? How would you feel if an ambulance didn't come in time? How would you feel if they survived, but their family owed twice their annual income in medical bills? If you really do become a part of the community, that might be a kid you've seen grown up. Would you go to the funeral? Would you even be invited?

I'm sorry if this seems harsh, or melodramatic, but being even a 10th of a part of the community means getting beyond archetypes, and dealing with how much it sucks for individuals to live where they live. Why don't those hookers the same age as you work where you work? Why are they trying to move out, while you're trying to move in? I wouldn't for a minute suggest that you ask them, but there is so much more to this than "omfg, black guys will gang rape you!" (which is very, very unlikely).
posted by crabintheocean at 12:44 PM on March 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Personally I think being a women is safer than being a young man a lot of times, movies notwithstanding. Young men who aren't from the neighbourhood are an immediate target for young men who are, whereas women tend to be ignored, especially if they live there. I'd bet that statistically you're far, far more likely to be raped on a date or at some upscale bar.

Having said that: I also used to live half a block from a brothel in a different city (I pick awesome houses) and it attracted a different and scarier sort of person. Most drug addicts aren't interested in sex or anything else, the creepy brothel guys were another story.
posted by fshgrl at 6:05 PM on March 20, 2006


Best answer: I've lived in various neighborhoods in Oakland, the worst being 19th and Market in West Oakland. I walked half a mile to BART every morning at 6am (when it's dark in the winter), and then home about 6pm (when it's also dark in the winter). My experience is that the best approach to scary guys hanging around is brief eye contact, a slight nod, and then studiously averting your eyes from whatever they're doing. If you see someone around a lot, you know they recognize you and you're certain they're sane and un-high, you can step the nod up a little, but I wouldn't want to get into a conversation - crabintheocean's description is exactly what I would advise. Always seem alert, but uninterested. Walk closer to the street than the sidewalk. Don't ever wear headphones. Just have a no nonsense attitude and respect the neighborhood.
After a few months, most of the neighbors I saw said hi to me- it made me feel safer, but you have to be vigilant all the time in any part of Oakland.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:07 PM on March 20, 2006


Sorry- meant to say "closer to the street than the buildings"
posted by oneirodynia at 6:08 PM on March 20, 2006


Best answer: Hell walk right down the middle of the street if you feel unsafe.
posted by fshgrl at 11:26 PM on March 20, 2006


Best answer: Detroiter here, your city may vary. And, I live 5 doors down from a row of crack houses.

1) Look people in the eye, smile, and greet them. Here, that means you know the local ettiquette, and it will often shock young males into polite mode.

2) Get to know your neighbours. It comes out of 1.

3) Be aware, but not paranoid.

4) Be part of the community. Bring a dish when someone's mother dies, keep an eye on their house, etc.
posted by QIbHom at 1:21 PM on March 21, 2006


Best answer: Sorry to come late to the party, and sorry if I repeat what's been said already; I did some scrolling.

I've made several extended visits to north Oakland. Bear in mind this is a guy's perspective.

I agree that running alone after dark probably isn't a good idea under any circumstances. When you do go out, try to wear some Raiders gear. Insane? Maybe. But I've done Oakland head-to-toe late at night never had a problem. I advertise my loyalty and you might be surprised by the respect it gains with some of the types you're talking about. Of course, as others have said, give the real hardcore nuts a wide berth.

I've also walked the mean streets of Chicago, Manhatten and Toronto by myself. Walk with purpose, and try to look just a little pissed off. This works in strange neighbourhoods and with strange people. In your case, the relationship-building advice you've gotten is probably a better idea. Use your discretion.
posted by raider at 6:48 PM on March 26, 2006


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