The other evening I was biking along Portland’s Waterfront Park and passed four people in red uniforms and matching berets. After a double take I turned my bike around and stopped to see if my suspicion was correct. Indeed, it was Portland’s Guardian Angels on patrol.
The last I heard of the volunteer community safety group was over a year ago when they were reported to be increasing their patrols of the MAX trains. They’re still here and in fact, they’ve been in Portland since 1983.
I first heard about the group while in New York City, where they were founded in 1979 to combat crime on the city’s subways. Guardian Angels began conducting their own patrols and making citizen arrests, often without the support of government officials. Like many, I had been intrigued by what seemed like vigilantes taking the law into their own hands.
While individual members probably have varying opinions on law enforcement, the Angels are nothing like the Black Panthers. They make sure to operate within the law while on patrol. Guardian Angels are trained for confrontations before hitting the street, but they usually will alert the police when encountering crime or suspicious activity. Does that make them snitches for the police? “We’d prefer to focus on prevention,” one of them replied to me.
These days they’ve also moved onto the web in their volunteerism with CyberAngels, an online form of patrolling that has included the monitoring of chat rooms for sexual predators.
Before continuing on they handed me one of their recruitment flyers. It contains a bullet-point list of reasons to join, including “self-defense” and in the corner: their logo with that creepy eye in the pyramid. What’s up with that? Bicyclists take note: they made sure to tell me as I was riding away that they’re looking to start bike patrols.
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