Fighting Crime In The Streets of San Francisco With The Guardian Angels
The year was 1990 and I remember watching a television talk show that featured Curtis Sliwa, a New York City resident and founder of the Guardian Angels. I was moved by the organization and the dramatic history of how it began. He spoke of how the organization was reaching out to metropolitan cities nationwide. I contacted the San Francisco chapter and set up an appointment to meet with them. After the meeting, I joined the The Guardian Angels and they issued me a uniform, which consisted of some new Guardian Angel T-Shirts. In the year 1990, the United States invaded Panama, Nelson Mandela had been released from prison, the Space Shuttle Discovery launched the Hubble Telescope into orbit, and one of my favorites, when the Associated Press named Joe Montana the NFL Most Valuable Player. The Guardian Angel headquarters were located on Turk Street in San Francisco. It was on the fourth floor of an old apartment building. The Angels also had another apartment for physical fitness. This apartment had punching bags and weight sets. The neighborhood reminded me of Rocky Balboa's neighborhood in the first Rocky movie. It was rough and you had to develop a keen since of awareness. You had to grow eyes in the back of your head. It seemed everyone in that neighborhood had some kind of hustle going on. My first street patrol was exciting. We patrolled up and down Eddy and Turk streets, all night long. I met many Guardian Angels during that first night. Ranger Rick was a guy you wanted on your side when something went down, or so it seemed. He was eighteen years old with average height. Rick was a wiry guy with lightening quick hands. He was very good at martial arts. Then there was Tony, a young kid who was streetwise and could spot a drug deal a mile away. Tony grew up on the streets, he was a survivor. Another person I remember was Greg, very tall and educated. He was just out of the Marine Corps. Greg was the Patrol Leader. He ran point and called the shots when we walked through a neighborhood. Then there was Robert, a young kid who just finished his four year duty in the Marine Corps. Robert was the Radio Man and he always walked side by side with the Patrol Leader. I always believed Robert had some anger issues but he never presented a problem when we were out on the streets. He was short but solid muscle. He seemed the type that wouldn't go down in a fight no matter how hard he was hit. These were the full time Guardian Angels who lived in the apartment 24-7. The apartment manager provided free rent and the Angels provided security for the apartment building. I went on patrol with the Angels three or four times a week. During the week we usually had six to ten people on patrol. On the weekend we had up to twenty five people. Once a week we would go to Dolores Park and spar with each other. These weekly meetings were mandatory so we usually had a lot of people in attendance. The Guardian Angels would get into a large circle and our fighting coach would randomly select two people to fight in the middle of the circle. This was full contact, no safety equipment. After one minute of fighting the next two people were selected. This went on until everyone had their one minute bout. My first patrol was packed full of adrenaline. We broke up a few fights and had a drug bust. The drug bust happened on Sixth street. Tony noticed some hand to hand activity and we walked up on a young man wearing one hundred dollar tennis shoes and sporting a Chicago Bears jacket. Tony grabbed his arm and pried open his hand, which was balled up in a fist. We immediately noticed he was holding rock cocaine, the plague of any community. A citizens arrest was made and the man was placed in handcuffs. Robert radioed headquarters, requesting the Police. Fifteen minutes later a paddy wagon showed up and the Officer congratulated us on a job well done and took the man to jail. There was another time when we walked up on a broken window on Market Street. The window had been shattered and we quickly realized someone threw a brick through it. We heard a voice coming from inside the broken window and our radio man informed headquarters to call the Police for a burglary in progress. The offender came out of the window, looked at us, and started walking down Market Street. Ranger Rick jumped on his back and took him to the ground, punching the man as they went down. The Police came and took the burglar to jail. The Patrol Leader was very upset with Rick and we all went back to headquarters. Greg, the Patrol Leader told us all to sit down while he made a phone call. Then he told Ranger Rick to come sit by the phone while he put the call on speaker so everyone could hear. A loud voice addressed Ranger Rick and immediately started yelling at him with a few choice words. The man on the other end of the phone was Curtis Sliwa and he put Rick on notice by telling him that if he ever did anything like that again he would be kicked out of The Guardian Angels. I will never forget listening to that call from Curtis Sliwa, all the way from New York. From that night on I decided to do everything by the book, if there ever was a book. There was another time when we were patrolling Turk Street and we heard a man yelling for anyone to stop a person for stealing his groceries. I looked at who the man was pointing at and took off after the assailant. The foot chase was on but I was a fast runner and this guy was not going to get away. I caught up to the winded fellow on the next block. I grabbed the back of his collar and told him it was over. I made him sit on the sidewalk until my team caught up with us. In the end, the victim just wanted his groceries back with no Police involvement. We gave the groceries back to the victim and let the assailant go. The team was so impressed with me they promoted me to radio man. Guess who the first person the bad guys go after in a fight? The guy with the radio. I did not know if this was a blessing or a curse. Another time I drove four of my fellow Guardian Angels to San Quentin for a parole hearing. The only thing I knew was that they were scheduled to testify against a bad guy at his parole hearing. I was strictly there for transportation. The last event I wish to share with you is the time we were shot at by a drug dealer. It was three in the afternoon and we were patrolling Eddy Street, which is a rough street. We walked up on a known drug dealer who was in a heated verbal argument with his girlfriend. She looked scared so we told her we would stay with her until he calmed down and left. This guy walked up to each one of us and got in our face. He was threatening us and using every foul word one can imagine. We explained to him that we were standing by for her safety and asked him to leave. He pointed at each one of us with an accusing finger. He became irate and told us we were all dead. The man proceeded to walk to his car and opened the trunk. We all looked at each other with concern, somehow knowing that if we did not run at that moment we were as good as dead. We took off running. I heard the first shot from his handgun as I was looking over my shoulder to see what he was doing. I was stunned because I had never been shot at before. He was grinning as he took another shot in our direction. I remember everything seemed as if it were happening in slow motion. I ran around the corner and called headquarters from my radio. I gave them our location and told them we were being shot at. In a short time there were black and white police cars everywhere. The man was arrested on a variety of felony charges. I remember we were getting lectured by a Police Captain on the issue of safety and that it was not a good idea being out here unarmed. His message was to let the police department its job and stay out of it. He complained about how much paperwork he would have to do if one of us was killed. He went on about how he hated to do paperwork. In the end I decided that it was not worth losing my life over. I never went back to The Guardian Angels after the shooting incident. I learned a lot about people during my six month period with the Angels. I learned about poverty and social issues. I learned that good people, especially kids, were turning to drugs. Some to make money as dealers and some had addictions to make their pain go away. I learned what happens to a community, especially the young population, when there are no programs for inner city youth. I also learned what happens when apathy sets in and the adults in the community seem to give up. I had many other experiences with the Guardian Angels, both good and bad. If I had it to do all over again I wouldn't change anything. I remember the many times I was able to help others and I would not change that for anything.