Home News Local News New, local members join Guardian Angels to patrol in Greenport

New, local members join Guardian Angels to patrol in Greenport

Driving rain and chilly temps didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of brand-new local members of the Guardian Angels in Greenport, who  set off on their first patrol Saturday night.

According to Benjamin Garcia, who leads the Greenport patrol, seven new members turned out Saturday; 14 new members in total have expressed interest after Garcia spoke to the congregation at a Spanish-language mass at St. Agnes R.C. Church in Greenport last month.

On Saturday, the new members gathered in front of the Christmas tree by the Greenport carousel to meet the Guardian Angels who’d traveled from New York City. The group went to a local pizzeria, where the new members filled out applications and Garcia spoke with the new recruits.

Because of the heavy rain, Garcia said the group embarked on a short patrol, visiting the Layyah Convenience Store and other locations. The new members, Garcia said, were “very happy” to join the patrol and to have the Guardian Angels as a visible presence in the village. “They do not want to see gangs in the community,” Garcia said, adding that the new members said they have seen evidence of MS-13 gang members in the area.

The new members include two women.

Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, said he was pleased with the turnout. “When Sister Margaret gave us a chance to speak to the immigrant community two Saturdays ago, many naysayers said, ‘Oh, watch, nobody from their community will sign up for the Guardian Angel patrol.’ Well, 14 signed on in a public display to join. A week later, the same naysayers said, ‘Yeah, but they won’t put on the red beret and be seen by the gangs patrolling Greenport.’ Well, seven new recruits showed up and went out on their first training patrol. They did so in a downpour of rain and on a day where, earlier, the visiting New York City Guardian Angels went from store to store, warning the gang bangers standing around that from now on there would be zero tolerance in full effect. No threats to store owners, no shakedowns of the customers and no sexual harassment of the women would be tolerated.”

Sliwa added, “Not only did the new immigrant Guardian Angels come out, but they talked also about the need of setting up Guardian Angel patrols in El Salvador where most of  these problems emanate from. I realize that we will have many challenges ahead, but we are off to a great start.”

Last month, at the mass, after hearing about the Guardian Angels, when asked if they would like to see the volunteer group as a presence in Greenport, the crowd clapped and nodded in assent, calling out, “Sí!”
After the alleged gang attack in Southold in October, Sliwa offered to help address what he considers a growing threat not only on the North Fork but nationwide.
Earlier that day, a new Guardian Angels recruit, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for safety reasons, said he showed the visiting patrol a spot at the cemetery where  he believes MS-13 gang members are doing self-defense training in Greenport. He also pointed out  a store where he said he has seen an MS-13 presence. As a Greenport village resident for over 10 years, he’s seen the community change and tendrils of gang activity taking root, he said.
Sliwa has said that having Guardian Angels who speak Spanish is critical, to reach out to the burgeoning Latino community most vulnerable to gangs preying on their youth. It happens most often in local school districts — with some children recruited into MS-13 and 18th Street gangs as young as six years old.
“It’s important to realize that this is a community that wants to help themselves,” Sliwa said.
Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate addressed the congregation before introducing Garcia at the mass, speaking about threats of gangs. “We have a growing problem in this community,” she said.
After hearing Garcia’s message, the crowd of men, women and children, some very young, filed up to Garcia to sign their names on a list and receive additional information about the Guardian Angels.
Guardian Angels were also met with a positive response in the community, as residents honked their horn and shouted greetings, stopping to speak to the patrol on the street.
Reflecting on the many who embraced the Guardian Angels at Saturday’s Spanish-speaking mass, Sliwa said, “In the many years that I have addressed issues of gang activity coming from the new immigrant community, it was always said to me ‘Oh, they won’t get involved. They exist in the shadows, they won’t assimilate and they won’t cooperate. They are a drain on the community.’ Last night’s event proved once again that, that is not true. In many instances the catalyst for their empowerment must come through a vehicle. Sometimes it’s the church, or it could be a cultural group, or an issue that affects their status that causes them to galvanize and get involved. But when it comes to combating gangs in their own community, the Guardian Angels has been a good method because in many instances, we talk their language, we understand their culture, their fears, and the reality of what happens when you join with us to take on the gangs that prey on their community. By attending in a very public way and in some instances, wanting to join, they are taking a stand that should bring a smile to everyone’s face. Officials and other members of the community should realize that they Dare to Care.”