When the Guardian Angels returned to Baltimore last year, they felt assured they would get the support of residents and city officials for their crime-fighting efforts.
But the relationship got off to a rocky start, suffered one too many disputes and ended yesterday in separation.
Once again, the young men in red berets have left Baltimore -- but not forever, they say.
"We just felt abandoned in Baltimore," said Curtis Sliwa, the New York founder and president of the national group, known for chasing drug dealers and making aggressive citizen's arrests. "I mean we're fighting a war on drugs and the general in Baltimore -- Kurt Schmoke -- has turned down our request for help, so we're leaving," he said.
"But," Mr. Sliwa quickly added, "we'll be back. But when we return, we'll be in a cocoon so that we will be protected, so we don't have to go begging to Mayor Schmoke for help."
"This street is going to go back to the way it was with all the drugs and crimes," lamented Norma Durham, 46, who lives across from the Guardian Angels' Baltimore headquarters in the 300 block of South Bruce Street. "Since the Angels have been here, the kids stay away from drugs, and they helped older people get food and medication."
This is the Angels' second flight from Baltimore.
The New York-based group had set up a chapter in Baltimore in 1981 but disbanded a year later after membership dwindled.
Yesterday's departure of the 15 members who patrolled streets downtown and in East and Southwest Baltimore came less than a week after the chapter's two leaders -- Anthony "Metalhead" Smith, 19, and David "Magazine" Ford, 24 -- were convicted of assaulting a man they believed was a drug dealer in July.
After the assault, which occurred in front of the Angels' Bruce Street row house, the victim required 40 stitches.
"When they first returned to Baltimore, the mayor welcomed them as extra sets of eyes and ears for the police," said Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for the mayor. "But he does not and never has encouraged anyone to make citizens' arrests. That is something that should only be done by law-enforcement officials."
Mr. Coleman said that when the Guardian Angels agreed to return to Baltimore last year, they also agreed with police that they would not make such arrests.
"The mayor told them that if they insisted on making citizens' arrests, there would be trouble," Mr. Coleman said.
But Mrs. Durham said that sometimes the only way to deal with drug dealers is to use "a little force to hold them until the police arrive." She has lived most of her life on the dirty, crime-infested streets south of Union Square. She said, "The Angels have really made a difference in keeping the kids away from the dealers and away from drugs."
"It's not fair that we have to leave and the drug dealers get to stay," said Smith, one of the convicted Angels.
Mrs. Durham said a group of residents in her neighborhood got more than 500 voters to sign a petition in support of the Angels and presented it to the mayor's office yesterday. Mr. Coleman said the mayor sent the petition to the Police Department.
"[The Guardian Angels'] problems have always been police-related problems, and the mayor always felt those matters would be best handled in [Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods'] office," he said. Mr. Sliwa disagreed, saying, "You don't put the fox in the chicken house and expect everything to be OK. The Baltimore City Police Department did not want to work with us."
City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge said he was disappointed by the departure but not surprised.
"They came in uninvited without trying to make contact with any of the city's leaders, so I was apprehensive from the get-go," he said. "And while their intentions were good, they never worked within the parameters of the guidelines we had set up."
He added, "I think they could have been a positive role model for our children, but they never had any meaningful leadership and guidance."
Robert Phillips, 26, another Bruce Street resident, said the Angels never put a significant dent in the crime in his neighborhood and probably never would.
"It's best that they're gone," he said. "There are a lot of hard-butts in this neighborhood, and the Guardian Angels just can't handle it here."