Fallen angels

October 04, 1990

The Guardian Angels, colorfully attired crime-busters whose methods have been criticized as little better than vigilantism, are leaving Baltimore again -- victims, they claim, of harassment by local police. This is the second time the group has offered its services to the city, stayed a while, then departed after wearing out its welcome. Let's hope it will be the last.

Granted, many of the young men who volunteered for the groups' nightly street patrols no doubt were well-intentioned. And no doubt some residents of the drug-and-violence besieged neighborhoods where the Angels set up operations genuinely believed the group was accomplishing something, and are sad to see it go. But it was inevitable these self-appointed guardians of the public order eventually would clash with police, who quite rightly feel they alone are legally empowered to use force.

The Angels' decision to leave came after two of their members were convicted last week of assaulting, in July, a man they believed was a drug dealer. The Angels claimed they were making a "citizens arrest." Police said they were meting out summary justice, and arrested them. Coming on top of a string of similar disputes with local authorities, that was the last straw .. for the Angels.

The Angels cultivated a reputation as urban Robin Hoods who stick up for good people living in areas overrun by crime and drugs. Yet ours remains a society of laws, and no group, however noble its aims, is justified in taking the law into its own hands. It is precisely this that the Angels seemed unable to accept -- which is why it is just as well they depart and not come back.

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