Intolerance is a feeling that most people have because they can't stand their fellow human beings for lots of reasons. As a result they discriminate others and have negative attitudes towards their fellow human beings.

Marina Pitta, 16 years, Cyprus

I don't think that racism is good for the people and for the world. I think no one is better or worse than others. There is no sense in classifying people by any kind of rule.

Annamaria Bikkes,
21 years, Hungary

Sexual discrimination is
something I have experienced through someone else's eyes. I have friends of mine getting fired because their sexual orientation was different from other people's.

Jerzy Roziewicz,
20 years, Poland

5.4. The guardian angels
Peer group action in big cities

The initiators of the project were young men and women in England who contacted the Guardian Angels organisation in New York City, where the movement was founded in 1979. People involved as founder members were in England: Dave Edmonds, Tom Hibberd and Colin Hatcher; and from New York: Collins Pompey, Sebastian Metz, Robert Powell and Guardian Angels Founder Curtis Sliwa. I (Colin Hatcher) was one of the people from London who contacted the NYC group, and I was also one of the first members to join in January 1989 when the project was set up in London.

The start

Throughout 1988 the streets of London like many large towns and cities were becoming more and more violent. Young people (men and women) were getting involved in street fighting. The major problem was racial hatred and intolerance. So there were racially segregated street gangs of Black youth, White youth and Asian Youth. Particularly dangerous were the large street gangs of white football hooligans and racists who were involved in some terrible acts of violence during that year. They cruised the underground on Saturday nights, looking for trouble, they usually found it.

Another development during 1988 was the emergence of "Steamer" gangs, where a group of 10 or more youngsters, armed with knives, boarded underground trains and, between stops, would rob ("mug") all the passengers. Because the robberies needed to be carried out very quickly any resistance from victims was met with extreme violence. The targets for these gangs were often young men and women of the same age group. These were teenage gangs robbing and attacking teenage victims.

Violence against women was not a new thing in 1988 but was certainly increasing, especially on public transport systems, most notably on the Tube, where the lack of security made it a paradise for rapists, flashers and gropers. Increasingly women, especially teenage women were becoming reluctant to travel alone at night.

Growing unemployment, lack of opportunity and boredom drew many kids into violent lifestyles and criminal behaviour during this time. For many kids, crime was the only way to make money. The role models for a growing number of youth (symbolised by money, success, status) were the drug dealers and gangsters on the street corner. And many youngsters aspired to that lifestyle. A whole climate of intolerance, hatred and violence was growing. And also indifference. Passengers on trains sat and watched while gangs beat up victims, and no-one did anything.

But many young people were distressed by what was happening on the streets of London. They were unhappy with the situation, with the way kids were divided and with the way that fear and hatred and violence were making Saturday nights more and more dangerous.

London is like every other big city. On Saturday nights many go out on the town and have a good time. Then everyone tries to get home, not everyone makes it home. Some end up in jail and some end up in hospital. And the most dangerous age to be (the most at risk) are young men and women between the ages of 16 and 25. Myself and my friends had all suffered this violence - street fighting, racial violence, muggings or sexual attacks.

So we were looking for some way to do something. You know how it is. Most people watch TV or read the newspapers, and say "Oh how terrible the world is!" but they don't DO anything. We wanted to DO something to make our city safe and to unite the youth, especially against racial hatred and violence. Since the youth are the future.

So having known about the Guardian Angels for a long time and admiring the way they had brought the youth together in New York City we contacted them and asked if they would come to England and teach us how to be Guardian Angels too.

They said yes, the instructors came to England from New York and set up a training programme.

Target group

The project started in January 1989 based in Kings Cross, London - an area notorious for violence, drugs, prostitution and a place where young kids who ran away from home often ended up. The other place where we trained was Leytonestone in East London, very near to West Ham United football ground, an area with a large minority Asian population and a lot of racial violence.

The target group of the project was the youth of the city - all of them! We aimed to bring together young men and women of all races, all religions, all cultures and subcultures (i.e. skinheads and B-boys or Hip Hoppers), all abilities and all political opinions (racists of other people with hatred and intolerance were not welcomed) many people came down and changed their views through contact with our group.

We reached the youth of the city in a very direct way. The Guardian Angels basically walk the streets and travel the trains and we help people get home safely. When we run our "safety patrols" as we call them, we wear an identifying uniform, which consists of a red beret and a white T-shirt with the symbol of our organisation printed on it in red (we call it our "colours"). Apart from the red beret and the T-shirt, everybody can dress however they want, and express themselves through the way they look. This meant that wherever we walked in London, young men and women saw us and wanted to talk with us. When we walk the streets we make it our business to talk to everyone we meet. And we also carry information leaflets about our group, which invite everyone to join us and participate.

In addition to talking with youth on the streets, in the most dangerous and violent areas, we also received media coverage from TV, radio and newspapers. Since our initiative was the first time anyone had tried this in England. Some people said "This won't work in England - it's an American thing" but the New York City Angels reassured us - "This is a universal idea addressing a universal problem" they pointed out to us. After all, they observed: when crack cocaine and its associated American style gang violence came to England, no-one said "This won't work here because this is England."

Main content of the project

The purpose of the Guardian Angels in every city where we work is twofold. Firstly it is our aim to prevent violent street crime by being a visual and if necessary physical deterrent. This means that when we are out on the streets, if we see violence, we will go in between the people fighting and we will try to stop the violence. We put our own bodies between the criminals and the victims. The group is anti-violence and carries no weapons. But we will get physical if we have to. The streets are tough and so are we. But we follow the laws of self-defence in whatever country we work.

We are activists, protecting the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights 1977, especially article 3 which states that: "All people have the right to life, liberty and security of person".

Our second, and equally important aim is to provide real life walking talking role models for young people. By showing them members of their own peer group who come from the same backgrounds and have the same problems, but who are solving them in a constructive and non violent way. The aim is to attract young people away from violence into positive activities. And we make this activity exciting!

'In this world a few good guys stay good and a few bad guys stay bad'. But the vast majority are caught in the middle, and make choices, especially during teenage years. Many young people could go either way depending on what is available. The Guardian Angels was established for these kind of people - it was set up BY these kind of people. Many of our members are ex gang members and trouble-makers, who have found a positive expression for their energy.

Curtis Sliwa the founder of the group in New York City found a way to create a group with all the attractions of a gang - "colours", a look, a language, an attitude - but without the negative.

New members of the group train for three months before graduation. During this time they are given the opportunity to learn some really effective urban survival skills everything is free.

In addition new members walk out on the streets straight away and start learning how to communicate, to protect and to help other people. The sense of empowerment is great. We believe that young people join gangs for love and respect, friendship and status, and especially in order to feel powerful. We have been successful in the Guardian Angels in providing that powerful feeling to young men and women who have previously only experienced it in criminal activities.

Guardian Angels hang out on the streets and squares, and we look cool - and we are seen by youth as positive role models. Young men and women want to be like us. And we look just like them, so people see us and think "I could be like that!", because it's not just males, or just Black guys, or just big strong guys. Young people are attracted by the way we look, by our sense of purpose, and because they can see that we are having a good time. The sense of danger and risk which accompanies the group is also attractive to youth. We are like real life comic book superheroes and superheroines. The martial arts features strongly in our training programme and in our philosophy.

Description of a training session:

I will here briefly describe a typical training session, and a typical safety patrol on a Saturday night:


A group of 20 or so young people have met in an upstairs room of a youth centre in Kings Cross, London. The group is multiracial The chief instructor today is, surprisingly, a young Indian women, who goes by the street name "Judge". The other instructors are a stocky Black guy who calls himself "Mr X" and a white guy called "Gabriel". The training group consists of a mixture of experienced Guardian Angels and relatively new trainees. New and inexperienced people are straightaway partnered up with the more experienced ones. Most of the trainees are wearing Guardian Angel T-shirts and red berets. The experienced graduates wear a shirt that reads "Guardian Angels Safety Patrol". Trainees who have been on patrol but have not yet graduated, wear a T-shirt that reads "I Support the Guardian Angels".

Judge introduces herself and welcomes the 2 new people. And this a feature of the whole training - despite the intensity and physical violence of a lot of the training, the Angels certainly look after each other very well. The class begins with a close quarter combat drill called "Sticky Elbows Defensive Wall Drill". This long title describes a simple drill which gets everyone warm and develops close range sensitivity. It also teaches everyone to protect their head from attack.

Next in the class come wrestling and grappling work. Partners fight on the ground, trying to hold each other down. After the combat section comes role-playing. Some of the experienced angels take off their berets and T-shirts, and become the bad guys, or "mutants" as the angels call them. A "patrol" is picked of 6 angels who leave the room. Then as they enter the room as if on patrol, they are presented with a problem to solve - it could be two people fighting, it could be an encounter with a gang, or it could be a man harassing a woman. Whatever it is the patrol tries to deal with it - calming the situation down, and using minimum force, and providing first aid if necessary.

"Angels train in first aid" says Judge. "Now to a lot of people first aid is not cool - macho guys think it's something that weak people do, or sexist guys say it's for girls. In the Angels first aid is cool, just like the medics in a war in the army are cool - they are heroes. And so are we. And then later when you use it on the street and it works, and everyone is thanking you - especially if you save a life, which we have done many times - the feeling is incredible. You're high for days."

Sometimes the patrol screws up the role-play - and things go wrong. "But that's the whole point of training" Judge points out. "You learn by mistakes, and this is a safe environment in which to learn".

"You need to draw the line earlier" Judge points out, and she leads the class into a whole series of training drills called appropriately "Drawing the Line, or DTL", which teach Angels when to stop negotiating and when to start fighting, and what to do in between. "It's the mutants' choice" Judge observes. "We don't want to fight, but if we are pushed too far, than the Angel will take the mutant down".

All around us "mutants" are "Crossing the Line" and are being wrestled down to the ground by "Angels". The techniques are streetstyle - hair pulling for example is permitted, and everyone has to watch out for the mutants' teeth. "On the street there are no rules" comments Mr X. "In a street fight people will bite each other, gouge, kick, scratch - do anything to win. Angels are prepared for anything. The streets are rough and so are we - but we have hearts of gold. We use minimum force to prevent an attack continuing. But don't be fooled - we are peacemakers - not pacifists.

You can see why the training is so popular. Even small members can take the bad guys down and out. Judge says one of the main purposes of the training is to create and develop what the Angels call "Warrior Spirit".

Training finishes with knuckle push-up - more warrior spirit training, according to Judge, and then the group "raps". Everyone introduces themselves, comments on the training and asks any questions they might have.

"Every angel has an angel name - a street name" Judge answers. "It's part of our tradition that every member chooses a "tag". Your street name is like an alter ego. You put it on with your colours. In your day to day life you may not have so much courage, but when you put on your colours to patrol, you become an Angel, and the name comes with that. Our members get inspiration from it. It's all part of our culture".


I meet the patrol at their HQ in a dark side street of Kings Cross. It's 1930 hrs. HQ is a basement office, decorated with Angel photos and articles. The patrol group is multiracial and there are men and women present. The average age is about 18 years old. "We dress for combat, comfort and style, in that order" explains Michael "Mr X" Quinn, one of the patrol leaders for tonight. I ask about the uniform - "The uniform is just the red beret and the T-shirt - we call that the colours" Mr X answers. Apart from that people can dress how ever they want. We encourage diversity in our group - it develops tolerance."

There are 18 Guardian Angels present. Mr X calls us all to order and the room becomes silent and expectant. Mr X calls the patrols aloud, indicating which angel is assigned to which patrol. Each patrol has a name. Tonight London will see "Justice Machine" (led by Dominie "Judge" Kitaj).

Before we leave everyone is searched out of the HQ. I ask Mr X why. "We are checking each other to make sure that no-one is carrying weapons or drugs" he explains. "Out on the situations Guardian Angels rely on our own bodies and each other for protection."

The patrols split up. "Justice Machine" heads for the subway, heading for a dangerous area in east London called Stratford, where there was a recent rape on the station platform. The station manager there is a great supporter of the angels. "Rapture" walks into the downtown area of London's West End, where there are a lot of clubs and a lot of people. They will be patrolling an area where a local gang sell crack and other drugs to the tourists.

'Department of Correction' heads up to the area around Kings Cross station. 2 months ago a 15 year old white boy was stabbed and killed by a gang of 6 Asian boys - some of the killers were 13 years old. "The racial hatred and violence has been going on for a long time" explains Judge. "The murder happened right on our doorstep. This is our neighbourhood and we want to do something about it."

The angels walk down Drummond Street, a street full of Asian shops and restaurants. Half way down the streets there is a big posse of Asian boys, just hanging out, bored, with nothing to do. Most of the youth clubs in this area are closed because there is no money available to pay staff to run them. The Asian youth are also nervous. Everyone is still waiting for the inevitable revenge attacks by the local White street gangs. Here in Drummond Street Asians are relatively safe.

The Angels stop to chat, shake hands and distribute information leaflets. They are respected by the Asian boys, who have a lot to say about the situation. The Angels move away from the Asian area and cross into the White gang's turf. The Asian posse said that they were too scared to walk these streets, but the Angels seem to be able to walk anywhere. I ask Judge why.

"Firstly" she answers, "we are multiracial. That means that in an area of racial tension, we are a calming influence simply by our physical presence. The other reason is that street gangs know that we are neutral in any conflict. We try not to take sides. We are against violence, but we are not "against" particular people. If we see an Asian gang beating up a white boy we'll do the same thing as if we see a white gang beating up an Asian boy. We'll stop the violence. And they all know it. Another reason that we are respected is that everyone knows that we carry no weapons. And the last reason youth look up to us is that we're not getting paid for this - we're volunteers. People respect that commitment."

Outside a pub the patrol meets a posse of white boys. They, like the Asian boys, are hanging out and are bored. They are also just waiting for something to happen. Again the angels shake hands and "rap" (as they call it).

"You know" says Judge to 2 of the boys, "You're saying exactly the same things to me as some Asian guys over in Drummond Street. They think that you started it, and you think that they started it. They hate the cops and think the cops side with you, and you hate the cops and think the cops side with the Asians. You're sitting out here bored, and they're sitting out over there just as bored. Why don't you guys get together and have a party?" A police van rolls by. The police don't walk the streets here. They patrol in riot vehicles. They aren't very popular among the youth. "See those guys over there" says Falcon, pointing to some rough looking young guys. "We arrested them a few weeks ago. They were beating up and robbing a 65 year old man. There was a fight. We won. We arrested them and called the Police".

The night remains tense but calm. "That's a good night for us" says Falcon. "A good night for the Guardian Angels is when nothing happens." We return to base, and meet up with the other patrols. Everybody is excited as they take off their colours and wind down. As we leave for home the sun is rising. I ask Judge one last question. Why do they do it, since it is all volunteer work, and none of them are paid?

"Well, we all believe that everybody has the right to go out and have a good time on a Saturday night without being threatened, attacked or mugged, and believe that every person has a responsibility to protect that right, not just to say it, but to do something to make it happen. We want to make our city a safer place to live in. Many of us have been attacked on the streets, and when it happened there was no-one there who would help us. We don't want what happened to us to happen to anyone else."

The best and worst moments of the project
The main successes and failures

The main success of our group has been to not only set up in London, but to expand across Europe. To date we have 2 groups in England (London and Manchester), 3 groups in Sweden (Stockholm, Malmo and Gothenburg), and 2 groups in Germany (Berlin and Hamburg). In Berlin especially the group has played an important role in countering the neo Nazi movement among young white guys, bringing together White Germans, Turkish youth, Africans, German Jews and other minorities into one group. We have also visited Amsterdam, Paris, Milan, Copenhagen, Liverpool and Moscow. In 1995 we will hopefully be setting up groups in Milan, Copenhagen and Moscow.

The main failure of the group is that we are still small when compared to the population of 16-25 year olds in our cities. We are always seeking new ways to grow. Also, expansion needs money, and we have constant difficulty in paying phone bills, buying new T-shirts etc.

I think the best moment in the history of our project has been the graduation day of 50 Guardian Angels in Berlin in June 1993. Because there are such problems in Berlin of racial hatred and violence we felt the group's work was so important there.

I can think of 2 worst moments:

Firstly I remember in 1991 trying to save a man's life, he had had a heart attack at a station, and I was doing CPR (resuscitation), he died.

The second worst moment came in Malmo, Sweden where we were patrolling during the European Football riots, I think it was in Summer 1992. Our patrols saw and were caught up in such terrible violence that night, although we saved a lot of people there was very little we could do to stop the violence. There were several hundred football hooligans on the loose with weapons, and the police had pulled out of the area. Many of our members there were patrolling for the first time. It was a nasty baptism of fire.

Training for the work

Training is not only given to new members we encourage all members to train to become leaders. Leadership and good life skills are important to the group.

The results and the impact of the project

We know we have changed the face of many of Europe's cities. We have offered youth a chance to do something positive. To date we have probably had several thousand young people training with us, working to stop the violence in the cities. The groups not only patrol the streets we have speaking engagements in schools and youth centres where we talk realistically about violence. We offer free self-defence courses for women, and offer 'street smart' courses for young kids (6 to 14 year olds). Finally we are involved in food distribution for homeless people.

We know we have made a difference.

For further information contact:

The Alliance of Guardian Angels

Website in English of the main organisations worldwide:

You can not fight racism or any other injustices without have a dream of a better world. The group may like to reflect on their own dreams for a better world. If so, look at the activity, "Dreams" in the all different all equal education pack

The guardian angels fought for rights on their own streets. If you would like to find out about some other activists who have fought for human rights, then try the activity, "Fighters for rights" in Compass.

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