The Guardian Angels were established on February 13, 1979. Founder Curtis Sliwa, at the time a 24-year-old night manager for McDonald’s, envisioned a band of unarmed citizen patrollers who would act as witnesses and prevent violent crime with nothing but their wits and basic karate training.
Though the Guardian Angels had no shortage of volunteers, the nonprofit encountered difficulty with police and politicians, and mixed reviews from citizens and the media. Curtis Sliwa claimed his group had prevented muggings and rapes, and they filed police reports that – more than a decade later – Sliwa admitted were complete fabrications. He also faked his own kidnapping in 1980 and came clean about it when he was actually kidnapped in 1992, allegedly by associates of John A. Gotti, John Gotti’s son. Sliwa, by then a radio personality, had made unflattering comments about the Gotti Senior, so Gotti Junior’s associates picked up Sliwa in a stolen cab and shot him twice, before he jumped out the window and escaped.
This sketch could have come from any number of trials in which the Guardian Angels were defendants. The organization’s questionable effectiveness as crime-fighters only highlighted New York’s desperation to end the cresting crime wave of the late 70s and early 80s. To what extent the Angels aided in the success of that endeavor remains open to debate.
The Guardian Angels now have patrols in 15 countries, but New York City’s numbers have severely dwindled.