By Dan Waterhouse
Down in Fresno’s Tower District, the words hipster and Tower rat are becoming synonymous with scumbag. And a vigilante movement to eject “undesirables” from the neighborhood is growing.
A “take our Tower ’hood back” campaigner recently summed up the mood: “This entire group, en masse, should march on over to where the rats are hanging out (likely in the alley at the corner of Fern and Maroa) or on the east side of the Dollar Tree and [be] firmly told that no one wants their drugs here Louie! Let them know as a strong mass that they are no longer welcome in the Tower, period. That police will be called every time we see them loitering, skating, etc. And if police aren’t available, other methods will be used. Don’t specify, just let them know we’re watching, we’re haters, and they can take a permanent hike. No more money begging, period.”
Another said he’d like the City of Fresno to issue “hunting licenses,” especially for “Mutts”—members of the Bulldog street gang. He added that their bodies should be hung up in front of the jail downtown.
The online chatter has occasionally crossed over into physical action. According to reports on a Facebook page, employees of Tower Tattoo beat up a youth early in August after the kid allegedly tried to steal from the business. A shop employee confirmed the reports, claiming the beating started after the kid threw a soda at the business’ front window.
This began after, due to budget woes, the police department shut down the Central Policing District Station on Broadway, a few blocks from the heart of the Tower’s entertainment strip along Olive Avenue. The area’s entertainment industry and some residents saw the station as a cheap form of security, thinking all the cops driving to and from it would scare the riffraff away.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve continually tracked crime trends in the Tower via the Fresno Bee’s crime mapping and the case number log that was posted on the Fresno Police Department’s Web site. There’s always been a high incidence of property crime (thefts and burglaries) on and around Olive Avenue, as well as assaults, street robberies and the occasional murder or forcible rape. During the majority of that time, the Central District station was operating. Based on the police department’s own records, it appears the station being there wasn’t much of a deterrent to crime in the area.
Behind the now-dimmed bright lights, the Tower is claimed by the Parkside Bulldogs and the Asian Boyz. At least one outlaw motorcycle gang calls the neighborhood home. The ATMs at the Bank of America have been the scene of more muggings and sex transactions than one can shake a stick at.
There are now claims that businesses like Laughing Buddha and Bobby Salazars are unwanted because of their clientele. The neighbors are now reaping what they’ve sown. For it to survive, the Tower was marketed to be the entertainment mecca of Fresno. Bars, clubs and restaurants (all serving alcohol) moved into the area. This bunch ought to look at Belmont Avenue, because that is their future; if the entertainment venues weren’t there, the Tower would be just another south-of-Shaw Avenue slum.
We all know how well-behaved Fresnans are when they’ve been drinking. With the concentration of booze-slinging businesses, wannabe vigilantes and a large number of disaffected youth, some of whom have interesting ways of expressing their wrath (with matches, Molotov cocktails, rocks and buckets of paint, along with tags of “F— the Cops”), the Tower is now a powder keg.
Dan Waterhouse writes “Queer Eye.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.