The Guardian Angels of London
The Last of the Guardian Angels
Text by Ed Thompson (Autumn 2013)
The Guardian Angels began in New York in 1979; Curtis Sliwa formed the group to combat crime on the New York Underground with unarmed citizen patrols. Since then the Guardian Angels have grown and now they are based in 144 cities in 15 countries.
The Guardian Angels came to the U.K in 1989 and were met with resistance from the beginning and now over 20 years later the London Chapter is reduced to only a few core members – Hawk (the U.K Director of the Guardian Angels), Axe (his deputy) and Elephant. They continue to patrol central London at night, riding the underground and night buses, although they have little support from the government/city. The Guardian Angels in New York get to ride public transport for free while on patrol, whereas the London Chapter have no such help. The Americans as a nation are generally upbeat, passionate and have a sense of pride; whilst the English appear in contrast downbeat, apathetic and shameless. This sociological mix has meant that the American Angels have flourished, spurred on by a can-do attitude and the recognition of the Police, Mayors and Presidents. Whereas the UK Angels have had very little help from the Metropolitan Police, Mayors, let alone Prime Ministers.
Some say that since the inception of 'Community Support Officers', (C.S.O's wear the uniform of police but have little actual power) that they have taken away the role of the Guardian Angels. But the C.S.O's are still part of the establishment, the Guardian Angels strength is that they are not the establishment; this made it easier for gangs to approach them/respect them. London has a huge gang problem, as was illustrated in last year's widespread rioting. The Guardian Angels when they began in America were, in a way, a new gang for ex-gang members to join who wanted to make a fresh start and help society. The Guardian Angels wear a distinctive red beret and jacket, the equivalent of gang colours; in fact many of the original Guardian Angels were ex-gang members. If the U.K Guardian Angels were supported then maybe they could do the same thing in London, but so far they have no funding and all that keeps them going is the sheer determination of Hawk.
With fears of terrorism and gang violence the London Chapter of the Guardian Angels face an almost insurmountable task, which is probably why so few people have what it takes to be an Angel in London. How long is left for the last of the Guardian Angels?
All photographs copyright Edward Thompson 2017.