On the streets again

Guardian Angels back in Baltimore

Long absent, group resumes crime-fighting efforts in city, recruits members, seeks headquarters site

February 02, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

Tonight, it's Pigtown.

Taps struts up front. Strider falls in behind. In between, more than a dozen neighborhood residents linger in the chilly winter air.

In a nearby neighborhood bar, several people peer quizzically through a glass door at the two men and several others in their signature sleek red jackets and berets.

"It's the Guardian Angels!" one exclaims.

More than 15 years after the once-controversial Baltimore chapter withered away, it is back on the streets of Baltimore. The brash citizens patrol group is walking the streets, scouting possible sites for a headquarters and starting to recruit members.

Leading the charge is Marcus Dent, 43, an Anne Arundel County resident and manager of an oil-refining company who is otherwise known as Strider, and his twin brother, Angelo Dent, or Taps, a street-smart Dundalk resident who manages an industrial cleaning company.

The two were part of the Baltimore chapter of the organization in the 1980s, when tension with the Police Department and public officials boiled over and led to its demise.

In the 1980s, "it was a totally different beast," said Angelo Dent. "The Angels were new, and the community wasn't really accepting. It seems this time we have the support of everyone. Everyone has the awareness that we need help. This is everybody's problem."

The Angels, who left Baltimore in 1990, have about 16 members, mostly new recruits living outside the city. Their focus is South Baltimore, particularly Cherry Hill.

For now, they are walking with community groups such as Citizens on Patrol. On this night they're in Pigtown with Jack Barker, head of the Police Department's Southern District Community Relations Council.

About seven Guardian Angels join more than a dozen residents, developers and a police officer for the one-hour walk through a warren of dimly lit streets punctuated by corner bars and package stores.

Marcus Dent said the impetus for the group came from Tressa Everts, 40, a city resident who was concerned about what she was seeing in her Upper Fells Point neighborhood.

Everts, now an Angels member, was having problems with drug dealers in her neighborhood and confronted them, in addition to calling the police.

"Citywide, I think people don't want to call the police because they're afraid," she said. "Whether or not I'm brave or stupid, I was willing to confront them and tell them to go away and do other things at the risk of myself and my child. So I thought I needed some other community people helping me and getting involved."

Everts called the Guardian Angels' headquarters in New York, which put her in touch with Dent.

Curtis Sliwa, the New York-based founder and president of the Guardian Angels, said the group hasn't changed its tactics but is now embraced by the institutions that once rejected it.

"We have not changed," he said. "I think what has happened is that law enforcement and the elected officials have changed, a change of perception. Police now say community policing is a key. "

In Washington, Sliwa said, the more than 60 members of the Angels have police radios.

Sliwa, 52, founded the group in 1979. He said the Angels have chapters in 82 cities, including some in nine other countries. He plans to speak this month at the Southern District Police Community Relations Council meeting.

Sliwa admitted fabricating incidents of crime when the Angels were formed, and he was shot several times in an assassination attempt in 1992.

He called it "tremendous" that chapters are being resurrected and new ones are being formed. The group is especially prominent in smaller cities and towns, he said.

Baltimore's Angels have been contacted by community members and leaders in Harford County and Baltimore County seeking their presence.

Sliwa said the Angels' initial interactions with Baltimore police have been great.

"We welcome partnerships with community residents who are looking to help in the crime fight," said Matt Jablow, a spokesman for the Police Department. "The only thing we'd caution the Guardian Angels, or anybody else, is that the actual enforcing of the laws be left to professional law enforcement officers. But we welcome the partnership."

Dent said the group's purpose is not to do police work. "But we do want to be out there and make a presence so even that presence can basically deter crime or stop it altogether," he said.

The Angels say they hope to start their own patrol walks soon. In the meantime, they're walking with members of the community.

"We're trying to get [neighborhood residents] to participate in their own community, which isn't easy in a lot of communities," Everts said.

Cherry Hill was the toughest walk, she said.

"I think the members of the Cherry Hill community are overwhelmed at what's going on in their community," Everts said. "It's sad. It's sad that people are afraid to come out and sit on their porches."

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