Who’s Guarding Who?
This year the city of Boston finds itself immersed in an ongoing dialogue on city-wide violence. While the overall rate of shootings has decreased 23% by the end of this week, homicides have increased for this time of year at 14, as opposed the same time last year which was 10.
At the University of Massachusetts Boston, the William Monroe Trotter Institute for African American Studies organized a city-wide dialogue several days ago with community members, university researchers, law enforcers, and several city officials to discuss the state of crime in certain Boston neighborhoods and the future of crime prevention.
Just today the Boston Globe released an article discussing what seems to be a new alternative to fighting crime. Community members, frustrated by law enforcers response time, and overall resources are facing a new method of crime prevention introduced by a group called the “Guardian Angels.”
According to their website www.guardianangels.org their mission is
|“To safeguard neighborhoods, schools, and cyberspace from crime and violence, through partnerships with educators, corporations, and community leaders, via programs that heighten risk awareness, foster character development, provide peaceful solutions, and empower individuals, especially our youth, to lead positive, productive, contributing lives.”|
“We are here to help, not to hurt,” he said at a gathering organized by the Rev. Bruce Wall, pastor of Global Ministries Christian Church in Codman Square. “We carry no weapons. . . . We’re just average citizens just like all of you.”
Guardian Angel members enter neighborhoods and merely act as crime deterrents through their presence. They are unarmed, but armed with red berets and jackets “red beret speaks the language of commitment to building role models for the real world,” alleges their safety patrol section on their website.
But many city and community members worry just what these red beret members are willing to do, and can do in their communities. His group aims to train a group of racially targeted African Americans from Washington D.C. in the ways of non-violent crime combattancy.
“Sliwa said he has recruited eight volunteers from Washington, D.C., most of them African-American, and all of them used to confronting street crime. They will go home once Sliwa has trained what he hopes will be dozens of Boston volunteers. Sliwa said he hopes to ultimately have about 60 volunteers patrolling Roxbury, Mattapan, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain “to create a new movement in the street to counteract what the gangs are doing.”
While the effort is commendable in its practical message, there are additional issues to consider. The racial composition of the beret toting Guardian Angels, is racially motivated. While understandably it makes no sense to train many white folks to patrol predominantly neighborhoods of color, it becomes another issue of neighborhood colonialism where outside organizations wield a heavy hand on community issues which are either foreign or contextual city by city.
But this isn’t the first time Boston has seen the work of the Guardian Angels. In fact, they made their presence from 1981-1992, but due to various administrative issues, “violent episodes, and growing resentment from residents,” they were forced to disband the Boston chapter.
Their initial 200 person membership patrolled the Mission Hill, Roxbury and South End neighborhoods.
While many community members are at the end of their rope, and are willing to give any new crime prevention method a try, Northeastern University Criminologist Jack McDevitt told the Boston Globe that organizations such as the Guardian Angels may in fact work against rather than with local law enforcers, and enact what he thinks is their own martial law.
“The commissioner is probably reacting to police chiefs around the country who feel they are more vigilantes than they are help,” he said.”They may in fact be exacerbating problems the police are dealing with.”
A past history of failure, and community resentment illustrates the contextual nature behind crime activity from community to community. Crime is not an equation, nor can it be solved by outside organizations unless they work with community members to understand the political backdrop in which they enter and work to develop a community strategy together. The Guardian Angels seems to essentialize crime not only in the US but also in their international offices in the UK and more recently in Japan.
Crime prevention is a laudable goal for any large city. City-wide dialogues like the recent community gathering at the University of Massachusetts Boston seems to be a first step in understanding just as a community the issues they face, and the resources they have to enact positive change. Guardian Angels represents a positive step toward a national call where discussing crime prevention is a priority. I hate to make the connection, but it was the first thing that came to mind when I read the Globe article, but I think of the Minutemen policing the Mexican-American border. They have isolated the issue of immigration, essentialized the root problem and are acting on their own accord to police communities of color, and the entrance of people of color in this country. I am acknowledging that both are completely different entities to be analyzed in very different ways. But there is a similar power structure of colonialism involved in both-The underlying colonial views that Mexicans are not only illegal immigrants but inferior people and do not deserve the same rights as families in the U.S. , and the colonialized idea that communities of color plagued with increased criminal activity can be solved through essentialized equations by non-community members with no understanding of the contextual community issues.