Shadow #1
March, 1989

Angels With Dirty Faces

By Nashua

Curtis Sliwa was born in 1954 and grew up in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. A rebel, he was thrown out of an exclusive private high school for challenging school rules. After a stint in a public school, he dropped out and became an assistant manager of a McDonald’s restaurant in the South Bronx. He hatched the idea of a citizen crime patrol while riding the subway between his home in Brooklyn and his job in the Bronx.

Sliwa and a co-worker Don Chin would establish what they called a "decoy situation" as they rode the subway. Curtis would play the role of a victim wearing a gold watch and three piece suit. Dori Chin would wait in another part of the subway car connected to Sliwa by a beeper. If Sliwa signaled-that a mugging was about to happen, Chin, who is a large man, would step in and seize the alleged culprit.

Sliwa's foray into organized vigilantism began when he formed the Magnificent 13 in February 1979. The group began as a group of South Bronx youths who formed the Rock Brigade, named after "Rock", the nickname Sliwa earned as a tough brawler after he dropped out of high school in Brooklyn. The group started by cleaning litter off the streets of the South Bronx, but soon graduated to a public campaign of guarding subway riders.

In 1980 the Angels had according to Sliwa grown to 5,000 members in chapters throughout the country, a figure disputed as greatly exaggerated in most reports. The Angels had also gained notoriety for their alleged conflicts with Transit Police although a poll taken of transit Officers found that 73% supported what the Angels were doing in the subways.

Throughout their existence the Guardian Angels have maintained that police fearing for their jobs have opposed them. However, researchers tend to believe that most of the stories of conflict between Angels and cops are part of the hype Sliwa has built around the group. Many individual Angels will admit a desire to eventually become police officers themselves.

In 1980, Sliwa claimed he was kidnapped by N.Y. Transit Police and told to stop his patrols because he was "taking jobs from transit cops." In August 1981, Sliwa claimed police in Washington, D.C., where Sliwa was setting up a chapter, kidnapped and tortured him for several hours. There were no arrests in either attack. In 1983, a former member of the Guardian Angels told reporters that Sliwa had faked attacks upon himself and the Angels and padded membership rolls by including names from the phone book.

Eventually, Sliwa brought in as number two in running the group his wife Lisa, a black belt in karate and occasional model. The two share a $245 a month apartment at the corner of Avenue and St. Mark’s Place.

They have a reported income of $44,000 a year which the couple claims comes from Lisa’s modeling career and speaking engagements. The group’s treasurer and financial co-ordinator is Curtis Sliwa's mother Francis.

 

Lisa counters those critics of the Angels who call the group "modern day vigilantes" by insisting that "we’re not taking any authority unto ourselves that any average citizen doesn’t nave." The authority the Angels do take ‘unto themselves" includes the formation of elite groups of Angels in several cities.

An investigative reporter in Philadelphia discovered one group of Guardian Angels who operated undercover, calling themselves the "Suicide Squad". Dressed as homeless people hanging out in alleys behind gay bars (invited by the bar owners), they would wait until a crime occurred, preferably with an Angel as the intended victim.

Reporters in Chicago wrote about another group of Angels chosen to challenge a feared street gang called the Disciples. The Angels were told during training that in confrontations with street gangs they should "be a barbarian". In New York City, the elite Angel force wore red baseball caps and called themselves the SWAT team.

Last Spring, the Angels changed their focus from the City’ s subways to Restaurant Row on West 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues in Manhattan.

’The Angels had been invited by restaurant owners who complained that police were failing to stem crack dealing that the owners claimed was keeping away potential customers. With a big media splash, the Angels soon were confronting alleged crack dealers in the mostly poor and Latino streets surrounding West 46th Street.

During one patrol, a 16 year old Angel from New Jersey was stabbed by a man that a group of Angels were shaking down for allegedly dealing crack. As in most of these incidents, no drugs were found. Reports of neighborhood people being stopped by Angels without a cause began to mount and eventually groups of Angels were getting into street fights with neighborhood youths.

Fights with residents weren’t all the Angel’s problems. Plainclothes police, casually dressed and hanging out in a playground were the Angel’s next target. Eleven Angels were arrested and accused by police of harassing homeless people, but charges were quickly dropped by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

On East 14th Street, another anti-crime group called EVAC (East Villagers Against Crack), began meeting late last Spring with the Angels to form anti- crack patrols. EVAC was begun by a yuppie newcomer to the neighborhood who complained that he couldn’t get Chinese food delivered to his home because of rampant crack dealing on his block.

EVAC members proved themselves more inexperienced at public relations than the 46th Street restaurant owners. The group organized a demonstration where a hanged effigy

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