Trisha and Crystal have become friends. Arleen is still trying to find an apartment and is beginning to regret not going to a shelter after her eviction, even though she hates staying at shelters. She is under the false impression that Sherenna dismissed her eviction. That night, Crystal and Arleen hear Trisha being beaten upstairs. Arleen claims not to care and covers her ears with a pillow, but Crystal’s reaction is mixed. She blames Trisha for not leaving Chris, but eventually decides to call Sherenna and, when she gets no answer, 911. Arleen comments that Crystal must want to lose her apartment.
Even though both Crystal and Arleen are reluctant to call the police, it is clear that neither of them are cruel or unfeeling about the domestic violence Trisha is facing. Rather, they worry about the impact of calling for help on their own housing situation. This is one of the most disturbing elements of housing insecurity, and highlights how desperately the system needs to change.
The next day, the police tell Sherenna that they are charging her for repeatedly attending to “nuisance activities” in her properties, and that if this pattern continues she will face a hefty fine or jail. In the negotiations that follow, the police are only satisfied when Sherenna proves that she has already issued an eviction notice for Trisha and Arleen. This exchange with the police embarrasses Sherenna, who does not want other people to think her properties and tenants are out of control. Arleen, meanwhile, calls Sherenna and tells her that it is Crystal, not her, who keeps calling the police.
Horrifyingly, this passage proves that Arleen and Crystal were right to be worried about calling the police. As nonsensical and immoral as it is to punish domestic violence victims (and their neighbors) for violent incidents, this is an all too common occurrence—so much so that Arleen accurately predicted that it would result from Crystal’s 911 call.
At the end of the 20th century, the justice system began to increasingly expect ordinary citizens to play a role in policing. The nuisance property ordinance targeted properties where 911 calls were made with “excessive” frequency, and forced property owners to take action or face punishment. Nuisance property citations most often result from noise complaints or domestic violence incidents. Most nuisance citations in Milwaukee occur in the North Side. In 83% of cases, the landlord evicted tenants after receiving a nuisance citation. Female tenants who have otherwise been reliable find themselves evicted because their boyfriends are abusing them. Reporting abuse to the police puts people at high risk of eviction.
It is a profoundly troubling fact that the nuisance property ordinance actively discourages people from seeking police intervention. Indeed, this ordinance supports DeMarcus’ argument that communities are better off taking care of themselves than being “served” by the police. As the incident with Trisha shows, police presence often does more harm than good—particularly in poor, black neighborhoods.
Arleen is furious with Crystal. She cries out that now she and her kids are homeless. She talks about her trust issues, originating because her stepfather molested her from childhood while her mother turned a blind eye. Crystal says that the same thing happened to her. Crystal commences a long speech about her own trauma and suffering, her memories from childhood, and her religious faith. Arleen’s phone rings; a friend tells her she knows of an apartment she might be able to move into. After Arleen gets off the phone, Crystal hugs her and asks how much the rent is. Arleen calls back to ask, and learns it is $600 a month—too much.
Arleen and Crystal do not actually harbor much ill feeling toward each other. Despite their conflicts, they actually feel affection for one another. Yet it is difficult for them to overcome the circumstances that make their friendship so challenging. Both women suffer from profound trauma, mental health problems, and the stress of simply trying to survive as a poor person in America, which often is simply too much for them to handle.