Guardian Angels in America's murder capital
February 26th, 2005

When I pulled my car into a parking space at Dallas City Hall, I looked over to my left, and there was the man in the red jacket and matching beret, talking on his cell phone as he paced slowly on the concrete strip. I had a 4 PM meeting with the leader of the legendary crime fighting group that has become an adjunct to the justice system in America.

He had just emerged from a meeting with Mayor Laura Miller, who, he told me later, was very negative about his presence in “her” city. Curtis Sliwa, the founder and leader of the Guardian Angels, was the victim of a stickup in the late 1970’s when he was a manager at a McDonald’s Restaurant in New York’s South Bronx. Fed up with the virulent crime that had become pandemic in the city, he organized residents, trained them to assist the police in dealing with street crime, and soon became a national symbol for victims who wanted to take back their neighborhoods. When Rudolph Giuliani became mayor, he directed officers to cooperate with the group, and crime in the Big Apple plummeted. Since those early days, Mr. Sliwa organized chapters of the Angels in dozens of cities across the country and in a few foreign countries.

After concluding a phone interview, Sliwa asked if I wanted to accompany him and some of his Dallas-based group for a bite to eat. I followed them to a Mexican Restaurant in Deep Ellum, one of the many high crime areas of the Big D, and had an hour long interview with someone I’ve admired for a long time. When I was a cop with NYPD, I was always gratified to have concerned community members work closely with me and my fellow officers, allowing us to solve crimes we might otherwise have been unable to close. Sharing beef and chicken burritos with this law enforcement icon, sitting across the table from me, was a special treat.

In addition to answering my questions about the history of the anti-crime group, Mr. Sliwa described his ordeal at the hands of Mafia gangsters on a fateful day in Manhattan several years ago. Using his radio program, Sliwa had been reviling mob boss John Gotti and his nefarious crew of thieves and murderers. First, he was attacked by a few men with baseball bats, who assaulted him and caused him to be hospitalized. However, when he returned to his radio show, he continued to assail the crime boss.

As was later revealed in testimony, Gotti ordered a “hit” on the volunteer crime-fighter, and a plot was conceived to have a gunman end his life. Using a stolen taxicab, which was brought to a “chop shop” and rigged to keep a passenger from escaping and to secrete an assassin under the dashboard, the homicidal scheme was put in motion. After figuring out his routine, a driver passed by a Manhattan street as Sliwa waved him over. Once inside, he noticed the cab was not going toward the expected location, and he became alarmed when the driver repudiated his protest. Suddenly, he heard a sliding noise and saw the dashboard collapse to reveal a masked man holding a .38 caliber weapon. A frantic life and death struggle ensued as Sliwa thrashed about furiously trying to extricate himself from the sealed compartment while the “hitman” fired at him from point blank range. He suffered 5 shots to the body and legs before he was able to make a maniacal lunge through an open window in the front passenger seat, shoving past his would-be executioner and landing on the pavement, his bloody body bouncing along the roadway as the jerrybuilt would-be coffin sped away.

Thanks to hours of intensive emergency treatment at Bellevue Hospital, he survived, and, after a few months of recuperation, was back with a vengeance. Not long afterward, the cretins were arrested, convicted, and put in a place more suitable for their malefic lifestyle.

The time I spent with this man was a privilege for me because I view him as an extraordinary example of courage and determination. I have some experience with crime, and the vicious people who engage in it. When I was out there on those cold, dark streets, I had more than one gun accompanying me. These guys have nothing more than a walkie-talkie radio and a lot of guts. Being willing to patrol in the murder capital of the nation wearing a red beret as your armor is not a job for the timorous. If Dallas’s mayor can’t see the value in this group of motivated guardians of the public safety, the residents should question her political motives as well as her sense of responsibility to a city filled with potential homicide victims.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.