WASHINGTON — Things got heated recently at a Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Meeting.
The southeast Washington group was discussing ways to build their community Thursday when the Washington chapter of the Guardian Angels stopped by to explain its organization and to try and recruit members.
The Guardian Angels, founded in New York City in 1979, are a controversial volunteer-based organization that patrols neighborhood streets to thwart crime
They recruit youth from local communities and train them in how to combat crime. Members don’t carry weapons and can be identified by red berets and a red logo of an eye inside a pyramid on a winged shied.
The group announced recently that some of its members will patrol the NoMa-Gallaudet University and Rhode Island Metro stations, as well as the Metropolitan Branch Trail.
Aaron Thompson, the commander for the Angels D.C. chapter, told the community members why he felt they needed his organization and how they would operate.
“One of the biggest problems is you got the gangs that are out here, and they’re recruiting the kids,” Thompson said. “They’re influencing your kids to do the things that’s wrong.”
Thompson said how the organization goes about its efforts to clean up crime in communities.
“We arrest, handcuff and the police come and get them,” he said. “We kick in doors. If we know it’s a drug house and we know it’s a lot of drugs and we can prove it, we do exactly what the police do.”
But with this information caused concerns from those at the meeting.
“You say you bust down doors,” asked ANC 8D chairperson Theresa Jones. “The FBI has to announce and knock so how can you do it? Tell me how you can do it.”
Thompson, who some community members saw as evasive and combative in his responses explained.
“We’ve built the reputation of doing it,” he said. “And not only that, because we’ve done it so much and so well, we now work with the local authority.”
Still residents wanted more information about how exactly the Guardian Angels worked and how they would work in the community.
“I would like to see what the Guardian Angels can do for the situation in Wingate,” one concerned Ward 8 resident said. “I live in a high-rise, and we have a state of the art recreation center, but the youth are too scared to go to the youth center because they have to pass a nearby apartment complex and there is a turf problem.
“The recreation center is there but they can’t use it because they’re afraid to walk by the apartment complex.”
Thompson said it was all about recruiting.
“The first thing is we want to recruit young people 18-, 19-, 20-years-old that’s doing something positive,” he said. “Then once they come on board, believe me, we will assist in every way.”
Another resident expressed her concerns that the Guardian Angels would not be effective, because they did not seem so in the areas they already serve in.
“I happen to know that the Guardian Angels are working on Elvans and Staten Road and the reviews have been mixed,” she said. “Although the Guardian Angels are there and they’ve done a good job, relatively, we have still had some issues in that area.
“People still get robbed there every night coming home from work. But I have a problem when you couldn’t tell them specifically where you’re working in ward 8.”
Thompson said he did not hear the question and would answer anything asked, but many felt that he was avoiding their questions and being too combative with his answers.
“You can keep it real and tone it down a little a bit,” ANC member Thea Dyson told him.
Still, many were interested in the idea of having a chapter in Ward 8 and took Thompson’s card in order to have people sign up for recruitment. While Thompson said that they are not effectively working much in Ward 8 at the moment, he hoped to change that through recruiting youth for the organization.
ANC co-chair Olivia Henderson told Thompson that she would get him some recruits, because she felt their presence would make a difference.
“Just down at Anacostia Metro station, your presence would make a huge difference.”