Wingin' It

Fledgling Guardian Angels get the call from gang-riddled Lake Worth

In the Bronx at that time, D. found this to be the correct approach. Since the Angels have never carried weapons, they've had to rely on their attitudes for intimidation. There now seems to be a consensus that the local Angels chapter, which started patrolling in 1986, was effective in driving the drug dealers out of town, but news stories from the early '90s show that not everybody was impressed.

"They were on the radio, people donated money, they started local recruiting, and they got a lot of media attention," a police official told a Sun-Sentinel reporter. "We worked with them for a little while, but when Sliwa went back to New York, it sort of faded fast. I don't think they lived up to the media hype. The concept is good, don't get me wrong, but I don't remember much more happening here than a couple of marches."

So far, the Lake Worth Angels haven't been able to establish much of a presence.

"Haven't seen 'em," D. says, "except on the news." And from what she's seen, they appear to be a bunch of shabby-looking guys with beer guts. For police officers, it's one thing to be out of shape. They carry guns. But for an unarmed, out-of-shape volunteer...?

A man drinking at the Havana Hideout echoes that sentiment.

"I can outrun every one of them," said Mike Asaro, a mustached carpenter with a parrot named Bogie on his shoulder.

He has no problem with the Angels, except that he's been spotting them a lot in the downtown area, where there isn't a crime problem. There's good reason for this — the Angels still need more recruits.

City Commissioner Jo-Ann Golden fears that the Angels are ill-equipped to deal with Lake Worth's issues and that the police, who are already short-staffed, may be called upon to defend the Angels.

"These are armed gangs," she says exasperatedly of the city's drug dealers. Only after they were invited to the city and Golden complained did the Angels present themselves to the City Commission to state their goals.

The Lake Worth Police Department, on the other hand, supports the Angels. Sgt.Ponce and Chief Smith say they are clear on the group's goals — to rally the community and to assist police in any way they can. They don't expect the Angels to interfere in gang warfare that involves AK-47s. But they do have specialized training to deal with street crime.

"These aren't just people standing around on a corner," Ponce says. "They know what they're doing."

At the businesses on Lake Worth Avenue, particularly the bars, the Angels are greeted on recruiting missions with friendly handshakes, gushing "thank yous," and a flurry of dollar bills. One man at Igot's Martini Bar empties $23 from his wallet and hands it over. From across the street, a man with a mullet catches sight of the Angels, jumps to his feet, and pumps his fist in the air.

"All right!" he shouts. "Good to see you! Excellent!"

Before confronting a single villain, the Lake Worth Angels seem to have achieved hero status in the minds of many.

Our mission is to patrol Bryant Park during the city's Independence Day celebration. It includes a slew of food stands, some jumbo trampolines, a Grateful Dead cover band, a Kiss cover band, and a lot of drunken townies. Only four Lake Worth Angels have shown up for the occasion — Siew, Ryan, myself, and Richard Head, an original Lake Worth Angel and our patrol leader.

We've got three guys from Fort Myers to help out. One of these is the chapter leader, Juan Martinez. Street name: "Contact." He has brought along two recruits: "Rocky" and "Cali."

The Fort Myers Angels started up around the same time as Lake Worth's. But their nine recruits have been training for a solid three months and are ready to graduate in a couple of weeks, Martinez says. Smiling, he asks Siew when his recruits will graduate.

Siew doesn't answer. There is in fact no date set for our graduation. Most of our recruits have attended only a handful of patrols and just one martial arts class. "There's no way it's been three months," Siew says.

"Yesss," Martinez says, teasing Siew.

"Well, I have to do more speeches, and I have to do more press" is Siew's explanation. Then he refocuses the conversation on the mission at hand.

"We're going to be hit up with this rain, guys," Siew says, surveying the overcast sky and questioning whether the estimated turnout — 25,000 — might be optimistic. Head places a blue whistle over my head. If things get hectic, my job is to blow the whistle, call 911, then take off running to find help.

"If we see somebody smoking pot, what do we do?" somebody asks.

"Smack their face," Siew says. "I did that one time... We were down off of Lake Worth Road... This guy is dealing right in front of me... talking all kinds of smack... I went 'WHAM' and pushed him. He goes flying. I said, 'Oh, that was assault, wasn't it?' You want me to call 911 for you?"

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