Sunday, November 21, 2010

Guardian Holiday Angels and Bronx Memories

The Guardian Angels are coming to town.  More specifically, Binghamton.  And Johnson City.  And Vestal.

I know this organization has been somewhat controversal but I for one am very happy to see them come.  Here's why....

I've blogged several times, but not lately, about my growing up in the Bronx.  By the time the early 1970's came, the neighborhood I had spent almost my entire life was, to put it bluntly, a shambles.  Gangs (especially the Black Spades in my neighborhood, the Savage Skulls elsewhere, plus some other gangs), owned the streets  The halls and stairways of the apartment building I lived in were covered in graffiti.  People urinated in the elevators.  People threw trash out the windows.  Gunshots occasionally echoed through the night.  It was not a good time, to put it mildly, for the many decent people in that neighborhood attempting to survive.

A "Tenants Patrol" blessed by the police tried to turn the tide.  But there wasn't much we could do.  (one day I might write about this but I want to emphasize I was a very small part of this effort.).  Meanwhile....

There was a manager of a McDonalds on Fordham Road by the name of Curtis Sliwa. He saw what was going on around him and started neighborhood patrols.  These grew into an organization called the Guardian Angels.  This much is undisputed.

Yes, he is controversial.  A lot of people call him a fake. He has been a radio talk show host for many years.  He makes good money giving speeches.  People have accused him of many things, which I can not pass judgment on.  But the fact is, he started out as someone on the front lines, in a retail business, and saw a lot more of some of the same things I did.  What did we both see?  That neighborhoods can go bad, and can go bad quicker than the blink of an eye, if the people who live in them do not fight back.

Quickly.  In the blink of an eye.  If people do not face up to what is happening and try to make excuses, turn a blind eye.  It's a scary thing, that facing up.  It takes courage.

And now, the Guardian Angels are coming to Binghamton and other surrounding communities.  People are volunteering to join them.   I get the distinct impression that the Binghamton police are not thrilled about this.  Maybe because it causes a recognition that Binghamton is not what it used to be.  Folks, we have to recognize that, even if we don't want to.  Blame it on people coming from NYC, blame it on drugs, blame it on whatever you want, things have changed.

And that is why the Guardian Angels are here.  And, if I see you walking down the street in downtown Binghamton or downtown Johnson City, I am going to smile, and be grateful you are here.  At least for now.

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