Pubdate: Thu, 04 Oct 2007
Source: Inland Empire Weekly (Corona, CA)
Contact:  2007 Inland Empire Weekly
Author: David Silva


Open drug dealing in a quiet Riverside neighborhood is perfectly 
ignorable if you're the police--but if you're a resident?

The neighbors to the right of us are moving, which bothers me like 
you wouldn't believe. Good neighbors are hard to come by, and these 
folks--a couple and their three small children--were good neighbors. 
My wife talked to the husband, who confirmed what we already knew: 
The family was moving to get away from the drug dealers.

If it were just he and his wife, they'd try to stick it out, he said. 
But they had kids to think about, and the dealers were a problem that 
wouldn't go away. They'd tried getting the city to do something, but 
nothing had been done and there was every reason to believe nothing 
would continue being done. For all practical purposes, our little 
corner of central Riverside had been ceded to the drug trade. No one 
at City Hall seemed to care, and the Riverside cops were invisible.

Was the husband bitter about any of this?

"I'm selling to the worst buyer I can find," he said. "For every car 
the buyer agrees to park on the grass, I'm dropping the price $10,000."

 From what we could tell, the plight of the neighbors to the right of 
us affected the neighbors to the left of us not at all. Those 
neighbors, who we refer to as "the dealers next door" to distinguish 
them from our other neighbors, don't care about quality of life or 
property values, and they sure as hell don't care about who lives 
next to them. These neighbors--a constantly shifting assortment of 
parents, adult siblings, aunts, uncles and assorted nephews and 
nieces--appear to care about only one thing: making money as fast as 
they can by selling drugs to anyone who wants them.

With an invisible police department and a city hall that can't be 
bothered, business is booming.

Like casinos and 7-Elevens, drug houses are a 24-hour enterprise, and 
the enterprise next door is no exception. Every hour of every day, 
the local tweakers beat a path to our neighbors' door. My wife and I 
hear them as we climb into bed at night and we hear them when we get 
up in the morning, and if you're wondering how we can tell it's them 
with the windows closed and the curtains drawn, then you've never 
lived next door to speed dealers. Let me describe it for you: First 
you hear the shuffling shoes of the sleep deprived and calcium 
depleted, followed by the nervous whistle from the sidewalk, then the 
murmured hand-off of cash and poison ("mumble-mumble-thanks, dude"), 
and then a more hurried shuffle away from the scene of the crime. 
 From start to finish, it sounds like this: 
shuffle-shuffle-whistle-mumble-mumble-"thanks, dude"-shuffle-shuffle. 
Twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a week.

Sometimes I'll take my dog out for a late-night piddle on the front 
lawn, and find I've stepped right into the middle of a drug score. A 
dealer neighbor and his tweaker client look up startled, cash and 
baggie disappear in a flurry into pockets, and then they mill about 
looking at their shoes while my dog finishes his business so I can go 
back inside. Once, I stepped out with the dog and found myself in the 
middle of what appeared to be a skinhead reunion--six or seven 
muscular shitheels with Iron Cross tattoos who didn't startle or 
mill, but, instead, stared at me with dead eyes until I scooped up my 
still-peeing dog and stepped back into the house.

It hasn't always been thus. When my wife first told me she suspected 
something amiss next door, my reaction was disbelief. The street we 
live on is--was--fairly tight-knit, with neighbors looking out for 
one another's property and most of us fairly aware of one another's 
business. We know, for example, that the old man across the street, 
two doors down, is a contractor whose daughter died in a terrible car 
accident 10 years back, and that the neighbor on our side of the 
street, three doors to the right, is a former gang banger who 
renounced his ways when his child was born and now lives the straight 
life driving a tow truck--if driving a tow truck can be called a 
straight existence. Someone would have had to be insane to deal on 
this block, I reasoned. The neighbor across the street, two doors to 
the left, was a Riverside cop who frequently parked her squad car in 
her driveway, for Christ's sake.

More than that, the dealers next door were a part of this blue-collar 
community; they've lived here longer than we have. The older kids 
went to the same school as my stepson. We know them by name.

"You're paranoid," I told my wife. "They couldn't possibly be selling 
drugs next door."

But, of course, they were.

As much as I wanted to hope for the best, that our neighbors were 
just incredibly popular people whose friends happened to be jittery 
insomniacs, it soon became impossible to deny the obvious. The 
dealers next door were simply too blatant about it. I could ignore 
the round-the-clock comings and goings and the neighbors' 
increasingly odd behavior, such as washing their cars and mowing the 
lawn at four in the morning. But I couldn't ignore the cash and the 
baggies and the skinhead conventions and the 16-year-old girls passed 
out on the lawn.

Finally, I did what any Riverside police or city official could have 
done had they cared enough to bother: I walked outside, grabbed the 
first medium-sized tweaker I saw, and asked him where I could score 
some speed. He immediately pointed to my neighbor's front door.

"Don't tell anyone I told you, OK?"

Of course, I wouldn't, I told him. And the truth is, at the time, I 
wasn't sure what I was going to do next. I hated the notion of 
reporting my neighbors to the cops. It just went against my blood. I 
come from a large family whose sons and daughters are geniuses at 
getting in trouble. My uncle was a pallbearer at John Gotti's 
funeral; my father spent two years on the run from the FBI for a 
botched store robbery. When I was a kid, running to my mom when my 
brother hit me meant getting punished for being a rat.

"I'm not a rat," I told my wife, who sighed and pointed out that I 
was, in fact, a journalist, meaning that I ratted for a living. 
Still, I advised caution.

"Just let it play itself out," I said. "We've got a cop living across 
the street, and these idiots are dealing in the open. They'll get 
busted without any help from us."

Three months and about a kilo's worth of drug deals later, I began to 
see the flaw in my logic. With a cop living on our block, the 
Riverside PD apparently feels we're already covered. No one-- no one 
- --patrols our street. Sure, the dealers next door do their business 
in the open. But so does the guy who goes up and down the block 
selling corn out of a stolen shopping cart. No one busts him either.

This new awareness, that a cargo plane full of Afghan heroin could 
land on our lawn and the cops wouldn't notice, came right at the same 
time one of the dealers' regular tweaker clients was spotted marching 
up and down our block with a butcher knife in his hand. It was time 
to get serious. Back in the day, none of my people would have ever 
dreamt of running to the police. But I had to accept that, back in 
the day, my people would have simply thrown the dealers in the back 
of a van and taken them for a long drive in the woods. I'm not the 
woodsy type, so I dropped a dime instead.

The call was routed to what the police receptionist described as an 
undisclosed location (where, presumably, Riverside's crack narcotics 
unit discusses drug policy with Vice President Cheney), and answered 
by a sergeant, who promised me he'd look into the matter. When a 
month passed and nothing happened, my wife placed several calls to 
Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge, who returned none of them until she 
left the following message: "Yeah, I'm calling again about the drug 
dealers next door. You might also be getting a call from my husband, 
who, by the way, is a journalist whose friends include reporters from 
the L.A. Times and KFWB and a producer for Fox News."

That call was returned in five minutes, and resulted in Loveridge 
sending one of his aides to meet with us. The aide, a diminutive 
young fellow who wisecracked that he'd seen it all in Riverside but 
whose baby fat caused us to doubt that sincerely, listened carefully 
to our complaints and took notes and promised he'd look into the matter.

Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, and if the 
narcotics sergeant and the mayor's aide were looking into the matter, 
they weren't looking next door. We called several times to check on 
the status of the case, and, depending on who we spoke with, were 
told that police had raided the house and found nothing, that the 
matter was still "being looked into," or to call back on Monday 
because Riverside's crack narcotics unit didn't work weekends.

I work from home, and if the home next door had been raided, it was a 
masterwork of stealth. To be fair, though, I suppose the raid could 
have taken place while I was in the bathroom.

Months passed. The seasons came and went. Downtown, City Hall proudly 
unveiled its (now) $1.3 billion Riverside Renaissance Initiative, in 
which 30 years worth of public improvements would be built in five 
years. Next door, the dealers put in a drive-through, clearing out 
their garage so their customers could breezily pull in and out for 
fast and friendly service. Instead of "shuffle-shuffle-whistle," we 
now heard "vroom-vroom-honk-honk."

Here at home, I began pushing my wife for permission to buy a shotgun.

The city of Riverside is, as you read this, flinging itself headlong 
into massive debt in a balls-out effort to transform itself into an 
upscale shopping and high-end residential paradise. Meanwhile, the 
mayor and the Riverside Police Department are flummoxed on what to do 
about a single family committing class-E felonies on the sidewalk in 
broad daylight. This doesn't inspire confidence in the city's ability 
to get a job done.

In fact, my wife and I lost so much confidence that we've also 
decided to move. We're looking around, and when we find a place that 
cares enough to enforce the law, we're taking our dogs, our cats, and 
our taxable income, and leaving.

Are we bitter about this? All I'll say is that when we sell, we're 
giving the dealers next door first right of refusal. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake