It’s been reported that the Guardian Angels had been contacted after a series of murders; on Sunday, a group of the Guardian Angels walked the Garden Street area. This “patrol” was designed to assess the situation. The Hartford Courant reports that Guardian Angels will begin weekly patrols, and that the group’s founder wants there to be a Hartford chapter; an earlier attempt to do just that failed in the 80s. For those who do not remember, there was controversy about the group then. Recent news about the GA’s visit to Hartford reference controversy, without really spelling out what the issues are.
According to their own website, they have won presidential praise, are global, and are a way for people to do community service.
In the recent Courant article, someone questioning the group was described as a thug:
“That’s for show,” said one bystander, a young man with a mouthful of gold-capped teeth and dressed in a matching yellow shirt that read “Born Killers.” “They can’t stop nothing. We’re out there every day. When they leave, there’s gonna be a shooting.” The man would not give his name.
His comments — which might have been construed differently had he been described as an elderly man or a shop owner — only echo a critique of the Guardian Angels that has been made elsewhere. In a discussion about the GA’s presence in New Bedford, one person commented:
They came to Brockton, and are hardly seen… ** ONLY ** when a news camera is around, they come out!
This was followed by two other remarks:
That’s what they do. When the crime story first hit Orlando, saying Orlando was now one of the most dangerous cities in the country, the Angels were everywhere. Now that everyone has accepted Orlando is now a dump, and it’s not a big news story anymore, they are gone.
Don’t worry New Beige – once the cameras leave, so too will the freaks in red Members Only jackets and berets.
Those comments were made on a discussion board called MassCops, the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Network. . . not by “thugs” wearing gold teeth and aggressive t-shirts. It’s not uncommon for local law enforcement to oppose the Guardian Angels. Some see it as a pride issue, but that seems too weak and obvious. It does seem like this sort of group can undermine the police and can create confusion, but what seems more pressing to me is when an outside agency attempts to influence locals. If Hartford residents a truly interested in having a chapter and training to be those patrolling the area, this might be less troublesome than having strangers do the same. But, it can be argued that to an extent, the police force who do not reside in the city are outsiders meddling in local issues.
A 2007 article in the Boston Globe describes this tension:
Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis yesterday spurned an offer by the Alliance of Guardian Angels to bring their red berets and street patrols to Boston, but the New York-based group said it doesn’t need his permission and plans to help anyway.
“We applaud volunteerism,” Davis said. “In this case, you have somebody from 250 miles [away] that’s coming into a community and exploiting a tragic situation. . . . Responsible community people and responsible members of the neighborhoods who are affected by this [violence] are the people we really want to do our outreach to.”
The Guardian Angels were founded in New York in 1979. The group came to Boston in 1981 and once had 200 members patrolling Mission Hill, Roxbury, and the South End. By the early 1990s, however, resentment by some residents and administrative problems led the local group to effectively shut down in 1992.
Aside from this, the group’s founder, Curtis Sliwa, admitted in the early 90s to having faked crimes in order to gain publicity for the Guardian Angels. In a November 1992 edition of the New York Times, it was reported that the GAs staged six crimes/stunts:
The Guardian Angels’ founder and leader, Curtis Sliwa, has admitted that six of his group’s early crime-fighting exploits were actually faked and former and present associates contend that even more of the group’s activities were publicity stunts.
Rather than riding the subways to protect the public, the associates said, Mr. Sliwa and his wife, Lisa, run a group that has become little more than a security force for a block of midtown restaurants, its membership and activities exaggerated, its patrols, in trademark red berets, converging only on highly publicized situations.
Tony Mao, a co-founder of the group, said he drenched himself in gasoline some dozen years ago and claimed it had happened when he pounced on two men who were planning to attack a token-booth clerk. The incident, he said, was planned by Mr. Sliwa, who enlisted two other Angels to pose as the thwarted bad guys to capitalize on a similar real-life attack. His account was confirmed by Arnaldo Salinas, a co-founder who now serves as the group’s coordinator.
Ralph Hughes, who trains new members in self-defense techniques, said the group’s much-publicized crack raids were almost always done for publicity.
At times, they said, the group’s members have been used as stage-prop security guards at fund-raisers and social events, or as messengers picking up mail and carrying guests from the Sliwas’ radio show on WABC-AM.
They also said the group, which they say numbers only 30 active members in New York — puts pressure on those seeking to go to school or get a job. Mr. Diaz and others said such members were called “weak” and subjected to subtle psychological pressures.
A single incident from that long ago could be forgiven, but this is a series of incidents, some of which are quite serious. Although the Guardian Angels do not carry weapons, they could pose a danger in other ways.
Something else to consider is that Hartford has had a homegrown group challenging violence– the Men of Color Initiative. This group has partnered with the Hartford Police Department on occasion, while questioning its responses/actions on other occasions. It’s no secret that the way to fight crime is not by after-the-fact standalone antics like candlelight vigils, but pouring more money into law enforcement is not the way to fix things either. This need for change does not mean having to indiscriminately accept whatever “crime fighting tactic” is thrown our way.