Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Eviction Threat 2: Gaslight Boogaloo

Yesterday, I told the story of how appalled I was earlier this week, to come home from running errands and find an eviction threat on my door: apparently, February 19 was “the deadline to come to the leasing office and speak with the manager about the [illegal drug] violation that you received on Thursday Feb 15th 2018. You have failed to do so and this will and can result in the termination of your lease. To avoid this make sure to come by the office by 12 noon Feb 20th 2018.”

Except of course I never received any “violation,” so how did one get connected to my home? Since that note had my apartment number hand-written on the back, but no names or other identifying information on it, my original guess was that the memo was intended for another apartment, but someone accidentally misplaced the digits: I live in unit XYZ, but this was supposed to go to the people in XZY.

Fortunately, Jeff (the actual lease-holder) works the night shift as opposed to a regular nine-to-five gig, so he was able to talk to the management about the matter without having to take time off work. He told me that when he went to the management office there was a “marshal” there, who said something about a woman with a package outside our apartment door. He also asked Jeff what color his wife was, and when Jeff said white with red hair the marshal agreed I wasn't the problem.

Which is good, except – for 99 percent of the apartments here, the answer would've been “black.” Or, more precisely, “those varying shades of brown and beige and tan and related hues somewhat misleadingly labeled 'black' according to contemporary American racial whatever.” So even though the problem seemed resolved this time I was still worried, not just for “principled” reasons but a very pragmatic one: sure, being the only white woman in an otherwise-black apartment complex saved me from mis-identification this time – but it could all-too-easily backfire in the other direction. Petite white women aren't that hard to find, even in “majority minority” Atlanta suburbs like South Dekalb County. So how did my apartment get written up for an eviction-worthy violation without me even knowing about it?

“None of your business,” is what they told me when I asked today. That's an exact quote — said maybe two or three minutes before they threatened to evict me. Again.

Let me backtrack a little. When I wrote last night's blog post, I asked Jeff where he'd put the initial threat letter, because I wanted to quote from a more extensive piece of it. When he said the management took it back after determining we were not the ones they worried about, I frowned and said, “If I were them I wouldn't want to leave a paper trail either.”

I'd thought I was kidding, but in sneero veritas* – next day when I asked them about it, they denied ever threatening us with eviction and asked to see that letter as proof. At which point I realized with a horrified sinking feeling that these people were not acting in good faith, not honest, and not to be trusted.

When I went to the office I saw the presumed “marshal” Jeff mentioned yesterday: a large, intimidating-looking man wearing a bulletproof vest labeled “warrant service.” When I was talking to one of the office workers, asking how I could avoid getting further violations in future, the marshal/WS guy walked over and told me, in a very unfriendly voice, that he gives out the violations so if I have any complaints I should talk to him and not everybody else.

“All right,” I said. “Sorry about that. How did that violation get recorded against my apartment?” He told me not to worry about it, since my husband had taken care of it yesterday. Which I already knew, but not know how the violation happened in the first place, which also means I don't know how to avoid future recurrences. That, IIRC, is when he said it was none of my business. I looked at him in some surprise and said something like “I must disagree; it is very much my business, how I got threatened with eviction for a violation I never even knew about.”

I think that's when he first denied making an eviction threat, and demanded to see the paper. Which is when I realized with a sinking feeling that these people were not coming at this in good faith, at all.

Then a woman who I guess is the new Chief Office Manager or whatever accused me of being sarcastic. I apologized if my tone was rude, but said I am genuinely worried – how could I have proven it wasn't me? Of course we all know it's impossible to prove a negative, but ….

You know how a common Internet-troll arguing tactic is self-contradiction? First they say X, then when you respond they insist they actually said not-X. Which is frustrating as hell and evidence of bad faith, but with online trolls you can at least quote or link to their earlier arguments: “You say X now, but here's where you clearly said not-X, not five minutes ago.”

Of course I couldn't quote any contradictory posts during today's discussion. Nor could I speak in full sentences; either the office manager or the “Warrant Service” guy would always interrupt. They never threatened us with eviction before – though she said they're going to evict us now, after my terrible, threatening behavior here today. At one point Office Manager made some comment about how I kept misquoting or misinterpreting them, and I (admittedly exasperated by then) said “I'm sorry; I did not think I needed to record this, but if—”

At that, OM got even ruder and more furious than before, going on about how I'd be facing lawsuits if I ever tried that, which made me frown in confusion and say “Oh, I'm sorry; I thought Georgia was a one-party consent state?” [Narrator: It is.]

That seemed to make her even more upset, and said she'd give me her email address and we could continue the conversation that way. Which I thought was a wonderful idea — I feel more comfortable communicating via writing than speaking anyway, especially in stressful matters such as this one — so I said “Yes, please, that would be great! Plus that way we'll have a paper trail in case of future misunderstandings” or something to that effect .... but before I could finish speaking she interrupted me again to tell me to get out of her office, and she had the intimidating Warrant Service guy escort me to the door — and no, I never got her promised email address either. 

Of course they have no legal right to evict me for asking about a violation (or getting the false violation in the first place) – but they can certainly be annoying jerks who make my time here unnecessarily unpleasant. And when our lease is up for renewal in a couple months they can likely raise the rent sky-high, or we can take on the expense and annoyance of yet another midsummer move. Fortunately we can “afford” it (meaning the expense will hurt us financially, but at least the wound wouldn't be fatal) — but I'd wager most tenants here can NOT afford it, and that's what these corrupt managers are counting on.

When my friend Kevin Carson read my blog post from yesterday, he tweeted it and remarked that "If you think structural racism is bad in law enforcement, check out the landlords in predominantly black areas." To which I can only add: holy shit, yes. Even in my broke-student days dealing with cheap and skeevy landlords, I never encountered any so-called "professional" who behaved with such belligerent dishonesty.

From what my neighbors later told me, I gather the bully-behaving "Warrant Service" dude has been scaring kids in the complex ... and I'll bet he's the guy with the aggressive and fake "drug dog" from yesterday, too. 
*Probably the worst pun or attempt thereby I've made in my life. But today I careth not.

#WhitePrivilege: When Innocence Won't Save Your White Ass, but Whiteness Will

For the past week or so, the management at my apartment complex has left frequent notes on all the tenants' doors — more precisely, rolling 8”x11” printouts into hollow tubes which are then stuck in the narrow space between people's doorknobs and doorjambs — and I'd discover mine either when I opened my door for the first time that day, or when I returned home from running errands and saw another paper roll. Most were reminders of the complex rules: any cars parked here must be street-legal and in running order; put your garbage in the dumpster, not the ground; and similar things.

The overwhelming majority of notes are printed on white paper, but last week somebody put a red note on the door across the breezeway from mine even though that apartment's been empty since the first of this month, when its tenants were evicted. The woman and kids who'd lived there did nothing wrong, but the man who'd lived there until December 17, when he tried shooting some people and ended up shooting my apartment instead, clearly did, and I guess the management decided to evict some innocent people on his behalf. (At the time, Jeff and I joined various neighbors in urging the management not to evict the man's family, but this evidently did not have any effect.)

That red paper was an eviction notice in the name of a man who was NOT the shooter, so far as I knew (besides, I'm pretty sure the lease had been in her name, not his). That red roll and various white notices are still wedged in the vacant apartment's doorjamb as I type this.

Monday afternoon, Jeff and I left our apartment shortly after one o'clock to run some errands, and when we returned home shortly before six saw another white paper next to our doorknob. But one detail made it look different from the others: someone had used a pen to hand-scrawl our apartment number on the back.

I unrolled it and found a pre-printed list of possible lease violations – loud music, property damage, misbehaving pets, etc. – with “illegal drugs” checked off the list. Underneath was a note:
Today was the deadline to come to the leasing office and speak with the manager about the violation that you received on Thursday Feb 15th 2018. You have failed to do so and this will and can result in the termination of your lease. To avoid this make sure to come by the office by 12 noon Feb 20th 2018.
Clearly this was some type of mistake — we certainly hadn't “received” any “violation,” whatever that meant, let alone a deadline to deal with it. Other than our apartment number written on the back of the page, there was nothing to personalize the letter, no mention of my name or Jeff's. I figured the letter was meant for another apartment, and whoever scrawled our number on the back must've accidentally transposed a couple of digits. The office closed at five, so we'd have to wait until the next day to ask.

By the time I woke up next day Jeff was awake and dressed, and said he'd already been to the management office to clarify the matter.

“Good,” I said. “Whose apartment was that eviction-threat letter actually meant for?”

“Oh, it was meant for us,” Jeff said dismissively. When he went to the management office a marshal was there with the office staff, saying something about a woman and a package. And then the marshal said to Jeff “I don't mean to be rude, but what color is your wife?” When Jeff said “white with red hair,” the marshal agreed that no, the woman definitely wasn't me.

So – what the hell would've happened if I were black? (Which actually is the case for something like 99 percent of the tenants in this complex.) Presumably I'd have faced the logical impossibility of trying to disprove a negative. I wasn't there to ask the marshal to be more specific about the details. All I know is that on the fifteenth there was a woman somewhere, presumably in the vicinity of my apartment door off the third-story breezeway. Also there was a package – I don't know what it looked like or how big it was. Nor do I know if the woman carried the package, received it from someone else, gave it to someone else, or what.

What exactly does “received a violation” entail here, anyway? How did my apartment end up “receiving” it? Presumably it emanated from a security guard, not an actual cop with arresting powers. I doubt the woman, whoever she was, showed any identification suggesting she lived where I do, or ay ID at all for that matter-- the marshal asked Jeff what color his wife was, not her name.
Turns out the apartment complex is now under brand new management, which explains the recent rain of rule-reminder notices. The new management also seemed not to know about the still-unrepaired bullet damage to our apartment; Jeff filled out a work order detailing what needed to be done, and also let them make a photocopy of the card a cop gave us the day of the shooting, with the case number and related info.

And the new management sounds aggressive to the point of assholery; Jeff said he saw a security guy walking around with what looks like a police K-9, which started barking when Jeff walked past it — both he and my downstairs neighbor's husband agreed it was a "security theater" fake-drug dog. Also, when Jeff opened the door to go to the apartment manager's office he found another paper roll: a reminder that the lease states that the complex's “quiet hours” are between 9 p.m. and seven a.m. followed by mention of a 7 p.m. curfew for all children under 18, who must be inside their homes by then or else “Any resident found guilty of not complying will result in immediate termination of their lease. No EXCEPTIONS or EXCUSES!!!!” (That's actually a truncated quote: I put four exclamation points after the all-caps EXCUSES whereas the original note uses fifteen.)

After Jeff told me this, I went out to discard some garbage and stopped to chat with my downstairs neighbor, who stood outside waiting for one of her daughters to return from school, and my next-door neighbor, who kept her company. They knew about the previous day's eviction-threat on my door, and I updated them regarding the marshal and how my coloring solved the problem, ending with the rhetorical question “So what would've happened if I'd been black instead?” Both women agreed in that case I'd be in deep and wholly unjustified shit. Then (since we were already discussing/complaining about the new management anyway) they started sharing their own complaints about the new management, which segued into some complaints about the local police. Short version: they (and especially their adult or adult-looking kids) were, and are, getting shit for Existing While Black.

None of their stories surprised me, exactly — any student of police misconduct in America knows about Driving While Black and its many siblings, how a “street gang” can mean as little as “three or more black folks in public together,” and of course my own take on so-called “white privilege” has always been “it definitely exists in America, it definitely is a problem, and 'privilege' is definitely a bad label for the concept” — but while I've read plenty of complaints in news stories, and in quote-unquote black blogs and websites, not since my daily-newspaper days have I been directly told such stories — and not since my undergrad days did I hear them in a “social” (as opposed to journalism) context. They were especially incensed about the new curfew announced that morning; my next-door neighbor said her son, who works every day, already gets harassed enough walking to the store across the street, and she talked about The Talk she (like all black parents) had to give their son about how to increase his chances of surviving police encounters. I could only nod in furious sympathy, occasionally punctuated with useless comments: “How horrible!” “Those assholes.”

As for the mysterious woman and the mysterious “package,” it's damned lucky she got caught Doing Something With A Package While Black in the vicinity of my apartment as opposed to, like, 99 percent of the others in this complex, because to the best of my knowledge I am literally the only woman in this complex white enough to easily prove the negative “No, I'm not some random black woman who allegedly had a package or something.” Had it been any other apartment but mine, I'd have another neighbor lady evicted over something she had nothing to do with.

NEXT DAY ADDENDUM: There's a followup to this story, and a nastily ironic one: I got threatened with eviction for asking how to avoid being threatened with eviction in the future.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Trump's SNAP Judgments and my Fever Dreams

My personal warranty must've expired this year, because since the start of 2018 there have only been three days including this one where I haven't suffered at least one and usually more symptoms bad enough to require actual professional medical intervention, most often in the form of prescription drugs. More prescriptions this past month and a half than in my entire previous adult life combined.

None of my prescriptions had the slightest bit of recreational potential, alas, but a couple of 'em still managed to mess me up pretty badly for a couple of days. When writing my most-recent post before this one, when I discussed how Matt Damon is thoroughly and admirably not-connected to the very unpleasant Sunday before last Christmas when my then-neighbor fired four bullets into my apartment's front door, I did not realize that the slightly off feeling I'd had ever since the morning all those cops and detectives trooped through my apartment (to investigate a crime which had NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with Matt Damon, nor with you, the honorable individual reading this) – my feeling of “offness” was not a combination of loss of sleep and the stress of the whole multiple-bullets thing, but the brief incubation period between “a nasty infectious agent enters your body” and “things go badly wrong as a result.”

So I had a rather unpleasant bronchial infection resulting in various prescriptions, and before that cleared away I got a pinched nerve which limited my ability to move and resulted in more prescriptions, and either I have a previously unknown drug allergy or my various medications somehow clashed with each other because I ended up almost completely out of this world for two or three days, and Jeff had just about decided to drag my semi-conscious self to an emergency room when my fever mercifully broke.

But everything eventually cleared up, and I'm much better now and ready to rejoin the world or so I thought because I figured today was Valentine's Day but it must be April Fools, seeing how this is an article I actually read:
The Trump administration is proposing a major shake-up in one of the country's most important "safety net" programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Under the proposal, most SNAP recipients would lose much of their ability to choose the food they buy with their SNAP benefits.

The proposal is included in the Trump administration budget request for fiscal year 2019. It would require approval from Congress.

Under the proposal, which was announced Monday, low-income Americans who receive at least $90 a month — just over 80 percent of all SNAP recipients — would get about half of their benefits in the form of a "USDA Foods package." The package was described in the budget as consisting of "shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables." The boxes would not include fresh fruits or vegetables.
I thought Republicans for all their current faults were supposed to be more wedded to the idea that individuals make better choices for themselves than any government bureaucrat could make on their behalf? That's certainly been their main argument in favor of school choice – have government [taxpayers]  pay for education, but have government funding follow the student, rather than go to the school. Previously, I've tried persuading my anti-choice friends with this analogy:
I also support the idea of helping poor people who cannot afford to buy sufficient food for their families (though I'd prefer giving such people cash, rather than food stamps and WIC vouchers and the like) -- but even so, the system we have, wherein people are given food stamps to spend at whatever store they please, is FAR better than a system wherein poor people are only able to get food from ONE specified grocery store in their neighborhood -- and if that store is subpar and has a crappy selection of food, tough shit for them; if they want to shop at a decent grocery store, their only option is to move to a neighborhood which has one. Yet that dysfunctional hypothetical is EXACTLY how our public education system works now.

So when the hell did so-called conservatives start deciding bureaucrats make better choices than individuals?
… oh, right, when those individuals are poor. After all, true and principled conservatism in the Trump era means government money should only go to people who don't actually need it.

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