I was sitting eating a bland Panera sandwich, at the decidedly bland corner of Arch and Twelfth Streets in Center City Philadelphia, when I spotted a row of familiar red berets out the window. The Guardian Angels are in town!
The Angels, for those not up on their New York City urban lore, is a group of vigilante patrolmen, formed during the grimy 1970s, whose stated objective is to apprehend wrongdoers and make the city’s subways and parks safer for everyone. Their actual objective, especially in the relatively low-crime NYC of 2016, is a little murkier. Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, has made himself into something of a local celebrity, and uses his small soapbox to argue that police reforms such as the scaled back use of stop-and-frisk make the city more dangerous. Sliwa’s law-and-order view of the world dovetails nicely with that of the New York Post, which occasionally uses his continued presence on the trains as evidence that New York is falling into disorder and violence under its current liberal administration. When I took a ride-along with Sliwa and the Angels in February, we didn’t encounter a single panhandler or Showtime dancer, much less the robbers and rapists they’re supposedly out there catching.
I recognized a few of the Angels at the DNC from that ride-along and said hello. A member named Juan—his jacket bore the nickname “Crazy J”—told me that they’d come here, sans Sliwa, to recruit members for a Philly chapter and cast their watchful eye over the convention and associated protests. “We’re just here to make sure everything’s copacetic and people are doing what they’re supposed to do,” he said. If DNC protest patrol turns out to be anything like their job back home, they have very little to worry about.