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A group of West Siders has called on citizen-led vigilante group the Guardian Angels to monitor the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, citing security concerns in the neighborhood.
Members of the Guardian Angels volunteer group, which was founded in 1979 by former New York City Republican Mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa, were stationed on W49th Street Monday evening and spoke to W42ST about their newly formed Hell’s Kitchen beat.
“My patrol, which is based on the Upper West Side, is going to be here every Wednesday night until it gets cold,” said Guardian Angels member Josh Penner. He told W42ST that their presence had been requested by several members of the 6,000-person Hell’s Kitchen Neighbors community Facebook group after several violent incidents in the area.
Josh and co-Guardian Angel Smoker told W42ST that the group had been coordinating with the group’s administration to patrol different areas of the neighborhood each week, and were stationing themselves outside small businesses upon request. “Last week we visited a restaurant [Don Giovanni] that asked for our help on W44th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue.”
“The administrators of the Facebook group have certain people that they talk to and we’re happy to go wherever they suggest,” he added. He hopes their presence will inspire Hell’s Kitchen locals to form their own security group. “My goal is to eventually get enough local volunteers to make their own group — we have a few people who will hopefully show up this Wednesday and we hope to grow that.”
Despite posts from the Hell’s Kitchen Neighbor group about a lack of police presence in the area, the Guardian Angels told W42ST that they were “encouraged by the police presence” in the area. “We haven’t seen any open acts of violence,” said Josh. “You obviously see drug use here and there but it’s no worse than what we see up in West Harlem or in the West 60s through the West 90s.”
Josh said that the Guardian Angels “try not to provoke any incidents and de-escalate as much as we can” but the group has, in recent years, gained a reputation for the opposite. In February 2021, Assembly candidate Patrick Boblin recorded a video of several members of the group harassing and physically assaulting protestors from a march at Stonewall, citing the Angels as an unofficial arm of NYPD violence.
“The Guardian Angels have stalked my very block, harassed me and neighbors for abolition work when we’ve asked them to go. We’ve told them to leave and they instead assert their ‘right’ to intimidate us and our at-risk neighbors. Tonight they escalated to violence after following Stonewall,” wrote Boblin.
“For years Guardian Angels leader Curtis Sliwa has drifted rightward, while maintaining close ties to police and electeds like Queens DA Melinda Katz. We can only assume police know who the leader of Guardian Angels is and are letting the gang operate in the open,” he added. “Add together NYPD members participating in the insurrection, NYPD’s harsh treatment of assumed Black and Latine ‘gang members’, while letting ‘crime prevention’ patrols with no real training perform ‘citizens arrests’ on our MTA and we’re allowing a militia to express their discretion.”
Boblin concluded: “When do we treat the Guardian Angels, real-life boogeymen of 80s fear mongering, like we said we would treat gangs during the ‘tough on crime’ era? They now have embroidered uniforms. It’s a brazen performance of systemic inequality, just because there’s a white man at the helm.”
Sliwa, still at the helm of the organization, has also come under fire for making racist and sexist remarks towards elected officials, and for admitting that the Guardian Angels faked crimes around town to drum up publicity.
Prior to the mayoral election last November, Adams campaign representative Evan Thies told the New York Times: “Curtis Sliwa destroyed his credibility long ago when he admitted he faked a kidnapping and other crimes for publicity and regularly spewed vile comments that mocked the diversity of New York. Every word that comes out of his mouth is either wrong or offensive or both.”
W42ST has reached out to an administrator of the Hell’s Kitchen Neighbors Facebook group for comment and will update if we hear back.