Monday, September 1, 2008

SFGA history: Tenderloin Residents Thankful For Help of Guardian Angels

Tenderloin Residents Thankful For Help of Guardian Angels

San Francisco Chronicle : Mar 27, 1989. pg. A.1

Merchants and residents of a crack-plagued section of the Tenderloin said yesterday that the controversial Guardian Angels have helped them to thwart a flourishing drug trade that San Francisco police were unable to stop.

Regular patrols started last Wednesday, supported by free rooms from one hotel operator, free meals from a restaurant and donations from grateful residents.

"They're doing a fabulous job cleaning up the street," said Rita, a bartender at Scandals Saloon at 162 Turk Street. "It's not the way it was before. I used to jaywalk across the street to keep from getting grabbed by dealers trying to sell me crack."

Some critics view the Guardian Angels with suspicion, seeing them as vigilantes who like to throw their muscle around. But Tenderloin habitues say they have not felt so safe in months.

Bill Taylor, 64, a retired insurance salesman who lives on Turk Street, said he gave the Angels a $50 donation to help keep them in the neighborhood.

"They make it safe to walk down the street," he said. "When the bad guys see those red berets, they don't stick around."

Merchants say that the Guardian Angels - mostly young, blue-collar workers who volunteer part time - have been successful in keeping drug dealers at bay because of their obvious presence on every corner of the 100 block of Turk Street. Their red berets are hard to miss.

Abe Butros, owner of Grand Liquor at Turk and Taylor streets, echoed the view of other merchants. "There's less headaches, less trouble," he said. "Their presence means more customers. If you see a bunch of bums standing by your door, no decent man or woman will come in."

Matthew Montes, the 26-year-old leader of the San Francisco Guardian Angel unit, said, "Everyone is against crime and drugs - we're trying to do something about it."


For about a year, the Angels have intermittently joined protests and marches against crack in San Francisco. Still, trade thrived in the Tenderloin.

Craig Lee, manager of the Camelot Hotel, recalls: "Dealers were coming in to sell drugs in the hotel and people were coming in off the street to light up (smoke crack) in the hallway."

In December, the Police Department assigned two men on foot to patrol Turk Street between Market and Leavenworth streets, but the crack dealers remained.

"It's the heart of the Tenderloin. There have always been problems out there," said police officer Art Conger. "An officer can walk through one block, but something will be going on behind him."

The idea to bring in the Angels was born one evening a few months ago when Lee and the hotel's residents were talking about the drug problem on the street. "We thought, `Hey, why not call in the Guardian Angels? Maybe they can do something - no one else can.' "

The Angels last Wednesday set up a headquarters in the Camelot Hotel at 124 Turk Street and plan to stay there. The hotel is providing them with two rooms at no cost.


Since they established the round-the-clock vigil on the 100 block of Turk between Jones and Taylor streets, crack sales have come to a virtual halt on that block.
Guardian Angel founder Curtis Sliwa was in San Francisco yesterday to lead a march through the Tenderloin to mark the opening of the Tenderloin headquarters.

"It was the people in the neighborhood who called in the Angels," said Sliwa, 35, who founded the controversial group 10 years ago.

"The residents are fed up," added Montes. "People couldn't walk the streets, they were getting beat up. What you have here is a community fighting back."

Montes said the 35 local members of the group plan to expand the patrols to adjoining blocks. The patrols use hand-held radios to notify the headquarters if they spot any violence, but there have been no physical confrontations so far between Guardian Angels and crack dealers, he said.

"We'll respond to a violent situation and call 911 if we have to," he said. "If it's a minor fight, we just separate the people and send them on their ways. We try to talk to people. We're peacemakers."

Whereas law enforcement officials in some cities have been openly hostile to the Angels, San Francisco police seemed ready to accept any help to cope with the crack crisis.

"The only thing we're concerned with when we talk with this group is that they don't take law into their own hands," said Sergeant Jerry Senkir. "They don't have police officer status."

Camelot manager Lee acknowledges that the presence of the red berets on one block simply moves the drug trade a block away. "The dealers are moving to Eddy Street and over to Sixth Street," he said. "But the point is maybe the next community will organize, too. With everybody's help, maybe we can move them into the bay."

PHOTO; Caption: Members of the Guardian Angels watched Turk Street from their headquarters in the Camelot Hotel / BY BRANT WARD/THE CHRONICLE

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