Guardian Angels temporarily close city office Schmoke took right approach

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

October 02, 1990|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Yesterday was the deadline.

Yesterday was Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's last chance to fall to his knees and beg Curtis Sliwa and the Guardian Angels not to abandon our city to the ravages of crime.

But Schmoke apparently is a proud man and by last night he had not crawled, he had not begged, he had not even so much as met with the leaders of our heavenly protectors.

A spokesman said the mayor sent them a letter Friday. But a letter? A letter! Is a letter humble enough?

Apparently not.

Sliwa, founder, spokesman, guru and Archangel of the Guardian Angels, had threatened to pull his troops (all 15 of them) out of Baltimore unless city fathers gave his men the respect they deserve by Oct. 1.

Otherwise, Sliwa warned, "the Angels are gone."

And late yesterday, the Archangel made good on his threat. The Angels shut down their Baltimore office, packed their things into a moving van, and marched off to cities and jurisdictions that appreciate them.

Gone! Think of it! Gone! Left alone against the bad guys with nothing but a 3,000-member police force for protection. We tremble on the brink of disaster.

Oh please, Mr. Sliwa, please! Don't leave us! Don't leave us!

The Guardian Angels fell into a snit after a Baltimore judge found two members and two other associates guilty Sept. 20 of assaulting a 25-year-old man they accused of sniffing glue near their headquarters. The victim required 40 stitches after outraged Angels effected what they called a "citizen's arrest."

Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell sentenced three of the men to probation before judgment and gave the fourth probation and a suspended sentence. The judge also ordered the defendants to "get a job that pays."

Mitchell blasted the Guardian Angels for being vigilantes. He called them "little boys dressed up like soldiers." He accused them of plying "fear and terror," and he compared them to the Ku Klux Klan.

"If you're supposed to be my Guardian Angel," Mitchell said, "then I'll go in the other direction."

For Archangel Sliwa, the judge's comments were the last straw. He already was annoyed that police had arrested his Angels anyway since they had explained to the officers that the man was a rotten, wicked, good-for-nothing who had been caught flagrantly sniffing glue within a block of Angel Central.

Police could find no evidence of flagrant glue-sniffing on the part of the victim, but Archangel Sliwa argued that the officers should have taken his Angels at their word.

The fact that the officers did not do so fit what Sliwa saw as a pattern of stand-offishness and hostility by city officials.

"We cannot operate in Baltimore, where we are seen as criminals," the Archangel said outside the courtroom last week. "The judge obviously needs to get mugged. Then he would welcome the sight of the red berets."

Actually, I think Mitchell was a little harsh on the Angels since most of them probably mean well, unlike denizens of the KKK.

But the tenor of his remarks is well taken: We are all angry and frightened by crime. We are all frustrated by the inability of the criminal justice system to quell street violence. But we don't need another occupying force patrolling the streets.

We certainly don't need citizens' patrols to hand out "therapeutic back massages" or to make the bad guys "suck concrete," as Archangel Sliwa likes to put it.

Last year, city police arrested more than 64,000 men, women and children, nearly 17,000 of them on narcotics violations. An increasing percentage of them went to prison, and for longer periods of time.

But are we any safer? Would we be any safer if the Guardian Angels made a couple of more bad guys "suck concrete"?

I doubt it.

What we need are volunteers to help out in our schools. Tutors. Big Brothers and Big Sisters. More Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs. Little League coaches. Sunday school teachers.

We need volunteers to work in our prisons, in our adult literacy centers. We need people who can offer advice on parenting skills and employment skills. We need non-violent groups like Block Watch and Citizens on Patrol.

If a group of poor, underpaid, overworked counselors in one of our drug treatment centers had issued a lofty ultimatum to the city -- respect us or else -- I would have been the first to shout: "On your knees, Mr. Mayor! On your knees!"

But the Guardian Angels? Humbug! They can go hang for all I care.

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