The Guardian Angels' newest recruit, 16-year-old Ivan "Youngblood" Cruz.
By Michael Kaplan
February 20, 2016 | 10:13am
Curtis Sliwa, 61, leads a platoon of 12 men through the grimy 181st Street subway station in Washington Heights. The squad, all clad in matching red jackets and berets, board the last car of the 1 train.
“This is where bad guys meet and scheme,” says Sliwa.
The recent spate of slashings — including one in Greenwich Village this past Wednesday — conjures the bad old days of 1970s New York, and another relic from that era is also back: the Guardian Angels.
Sliwa started the Angels in 1979. He was working as the night manager of a Bronx McDonald’s at the time, and was sickened by the rampant subway violence.
The Angels now have more than 5,000 volunteer members in cities around the world. In recent decades, the group has focused its crime-fighting energy outside of New York, but, lately, Sliwa has been increasing his efforts in NYC. In the past six months, 68 new recruits have been brought on to the local branch, which previously had less than 100 members.
“Things are looking rough again,” says Sliwa, who believes small crimes are on the rise, despite statistics to the contrary.
The reportedly rough times led Jubei Raziel to join the ranks.
“On the uptown A train recently, a guy was standing up, yelling.
Everybody stood on one side of the car, feeling intimidated. I got between the guy and the other passengers. The message was that he can go as crazy as he wants on this side of the line but can’t cross,” says Raziel, a 35-year-old fashion model-turned-photographer who grew up in Washington Heights admiring the Angels. “It’s surprising what your presence can do.”
Even teenagers are choosing to don the Angels’ signature red jackets, which are manufactured in New Jersey for the group, and berets, which are just Boy Scout hats.
Ivan Cruz, a 16-year-old from Bushwick, signed up three months ago.
“I think the public needs to take some responsibility for what’s going wrong,” says Cruz, who is an 11th grader at the School for Legal Studies in Brooklyn and hopes to have a career in law enforcement.
Cruz is the youngest member of the group (the minimum age is 15), and he admits his parents are wary, even though he underwent months of self defense and martial arts training with the Angels, as all newbies do.
Most of the time, though, it’s not that dangerous. Often, the problems the Angels tackle are minor — more akin to a cat stuck in a tree than a four-alarm fire.
Not long after Sliwa and his crew board the 1 train in Washington Heights, his walkie-talkie crackles, alerting him to an issue. He takes off, walking between the cars with practiced balance. He ultimately finds nothing more than a dozing man with a Colt 45 bottle at his feet. Sliwa shakes him awake.
“I’m not rousting you,” he says gently. “I just want to make sure you’re OK.”