Guardian Angels New York City

Guardian Angels in New York City in 1981

Pictures of the Guardian Angels in New York City in 1981. In 1981, photographer Geoffrey Hiller was shooting this story for some European magazines. He bonded with a young Latino man, Apache, who lived in Hell’s Kitchen and ended up following him around for several weeks.

The subway system was New York’s most ravaged symbol of urban decay, deemed un-patrollable and unsafe even for the most street-savvy commuter. In 1979, a group of angered residents led by Curtis Sliwa began taking crime prevention into their own hands, donning red berets – looking very much like a gang from a movie released that year ‘The Warriors’ – and calling themselves the Guardian Angels.

Their membership were mostly young men, black and Latino, who had eschewed gang life in their own neighborhoods to better their city. While their presence was oftentimes flamboyant, many New Yorkers grew to feel relieved to see the muscle-y red-beret-wearing youths when boarding the train at night. Soon the Angels, over 500 in total, were out patrolling the city streets, their training and audacity standing in for actual civic authority.

  • Guardian Angels formed in 1979 and patrolled New York subways and Central Park to fight widespread crime during the 1980s and early 90s
  • It stopped patrolling the park in 1994 amid heavy police presence, though recently made headlines when it decided to return to the urban oasis
  • Some residents say it is a ‘time warp’ to see the return of signature red berets and jackets back on the streets again
  • Though crime has declined dramatically since the 1990s and most figures continue to fall, founder Curtis Sliwa says, ‘We want it to stay that way’
  • Photographer Stephen Shames took pictures of the group as they were beginning to become an institution more than 30 years ago

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