Guardian Angels Step In When Police Step Out
In mid-January, nearly half of Camden, New Jersey police officers and one-fourth of the city’s firefighters lost their jobs due to economic constraints that befell what has become, according Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihil, “one of the nation's most impoverished and crime-ridden cities.” What has become a tug-of-war between city officials and union leaders over wages has now left Camden residents without protection from these city workers.
According to the AP’s Mulvihil, “on the sidewalk outside City Hall, 82 police officers lined up their work boots to show how many officers would be taken off the Camden streets, where many neighborhoods have rampant drug dealing and violence. As officers staged the display, a woman riding by in a car yelled out the window that she was worried about the safety of her granddaughter, who catches a school bus before dawn, and her grandson, who doesn't get out of basketball practice until after dark.”
To try to lend a hand, the Guardian Angels, a group of unarmed citizen volunteers who conduct patrols in an effort to deter crime, have been walking the streets of Camden. The task is made even more challenging, not to mention dangerous, as Camden is has been “named the second most dangerous city in America.”
During one recent patrol, Guardian Angels volunteers returned to two of their vehicles to find that their tires had been slashed. “It was a pretty hairy situation to be in," Curtis Sliwa, the Guardian Angels' founder who was leading the patrol, said according to Reuters. "The vultures were definitely circling.”
Despite the all too obvious danger of patrolling the streets of a crime-ridden city, the Guardian Angels feel that it would be un-American not to help U.S. citizens. “It's the Fallujah of the United States," said Sliwa in a reference to the Iraqi city where U.S. soldiers battled insurgents. "And because no one seems to care, we've basically written off Camden. But that's not the American spirit."
The Guardian Angels, a non-profit volunteer organization, are choosing to give their time and possibly their lives to patrol the dangerous streets of America. Meanwhile, unionized city emergency workers have been accused of leaving their posts rather than make concessions to the city during a period of economic hardship. "Instead of protecting and serving the city, the residents of Camden, they're choosing to protect their high salaries," Mayor Dana Redd told the Associated Press.