In 1992, Puerto Rico's governor and police superintendent incorporated the National Guard with local police in a militarized battle against crime. Mano dura contra el crimen (strong arm/iron fist against crime) policies led to the gating of 82 public housing communities in the island. Simultaneously, privileged private communities organized and petitioned municipalities to retrofit their neighbourhoods with gates in the name of safety. These enclosures followed the privatized management of all public housing communities in the island only a few years before. Based on ethnographic research, I examine the sociospatial outcomes of these policies, how they reframe community participation and deploy a discourse of self-responsibility that distributes power unequally across private and public housing communities. While in the privileged communities these policies have cultivated community leaders and invigorated social life as residents take control over public space, the gates in the communities of the poor reflect a skeletal structure of democracy. Private management companies impose increasingly restrictive regulations in attempts to organize the community and the only recourse to participation is to engage in small acts of everyday resistance, from apathy to subversion. As part of larger neoliberal tendencies to retrench the ‘public’ in favour of the ‘private’, the mano dura policies curtail democracy as the voices of the poor are silenced and the scope of efficacy of the rich expands.