Sliwa hopped on a People's Express flight from New York Tuesday morning, and at 11 a.m. she faced the media on the steps of Boston City Hall. A band nearby for another media event was playing Marvin Gaye's '60s anthem "What's Goin' On," and many passers-by must have wondered the same thing. Here was the leader of a national vigilante group invoking the civil-rights movement to defend her group's action in Boston's neighborhoods. Mattapan community leaders who wanted the Angels out of their neighborhood "are like the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, saying the civil-rights marchers can't march," she said. Mattapan had been turned into an "American Soweto," which the Boston establishment would allow to exist as long as the people there were quiet and didn't make trouble, she pronounced.
And Watson, she declared, was "a whore to the political pimps who are breaking up our neighborhoods." Whose neighborhoods?, one might have asked. But she went on to condemn the "pimps, punks and human garbage out on the street." Behind her, cheering her on, were five Angels, all wearing their red berets cocked to the right and their white T-shirts emblazoned with the "flying eye" logo. Three wore sunglasses. Two stood at military-style parade rest through the entire half-hour press conference. One wore fatigues. If any of them were struck by the irony of militaristic zeal coupled with '60s-liberal platitudes —turned on some of the city's more liberal politicians — they weren't letting on.
Lisa Sliwa, who is married to Angels founder Curtis Sliwa and who took over the leadership from him, thinks of herself as street-wise and says she's worked hard to attain her ghetto toughness. "I had grown up as a spoiled brat, a little suburban princess," she says. And then she moved to New York, where she works now as a model for the prestigious Zoli agency. (At her press conference here, she showed around her model's book of photos of herself in various poses.) Despite her sheltered upbringing, she says, she found that her own philosophy was perfectly in sync with that of the Angels. "I think if you help people, you'll always end up being taken care of."
The appeal of the Angels is their anti-establishment tone. They represent the idea that normal political channels, even democratic systems, can no longer solve the problems of the cities, but that organized citizens can. This anti-bureaucracy posture fits in neatly with the populist New Right. The Angels, like the New Right, believe that government has become so bogged down that it has lost sight of its purpose - that, as Sliwa says, "it's cool to help people."
In 51 American cities, the Guardian Angels' guiding principles and plans of action are remarkably uniform. They think of what they're doing not as taking the law into their own hands but as taking law enforcement into their own hands. Indeed, the centerpiece of their training is how to make a citizen's arrest. Hence, Sliwa challenged all Boston politicians by saying, "If you don't think those neighborhoods need Guardian Angels, then it's been a long time since you've been in them."
And this is the point at which Councilor Yancey, who'd been listening quietly, called her bluff.
Yancey: "I've been here all my life and you've been here two hours. So tell me about the neighborhoods."