Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Curtis Sliwa of New Haven

New Haven has its own version of Curtis Sliwa. His name is Danny Greer, or more formally, Rabbi Daniel Greer.

For those whose interest stops at the Hamden border, Curtis Sliwa is a former McDonald's restaurant manager who created the Guardian Angels in New York as a counter to the rampant violence of the Big Apple before Rudy Giuliani tamed it.

Greer, whose son Rabbi Dov Greer was attacked and roughed up in the Edgewood neighborhood, has emulated Sliwa, at least in some degree, forming an armed patrol in his neighborhood. He claims the police cannot patrol his neighborhood, so his crew is going to patrol the streets between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Apparently after 10, either the streets become safer or all the Greers and their families and friends are off the street.

A couple of thoughts about this situation.

First of all, the big difference between Sliwa and the Edgewood patrol is that the Angels never carried guns. In their trademark red berets and jackets, they patrolled in groups in the most dangerous neighborhoods of New York. If they saw a problem that couldn't be handled with a little friendly persuasion, they called in the cops.

From the newspaper accounts about the plan, Danny Greer thinks the cops are the next thing to useless, so I guess he doesn't intend to call them if the bad guys decide to shoot back. I think the local nogoodniks might have a weapon or two between them, and would not hesitate too long to use them if the patrol starts throwing shots.

That's what we need....a smaller version of Gaza in the middle of New Haven. Elm Street, Edgewood Avenue, Chapel Street turned into shooting galleries.

Now about Mr. Sliwa. One could make the case that Curtis Sliwa has a bit of an ego problem. He had a radio show on WNYC, which he got thanks to his pal Giuliani. He currently co-hosts a show on WABC radio in New York with Ron Kuby, who made his bones with famed civil rights lawyer William Kunstler.

For all his bombast, one cannot ignore his success with the Angels. There are chapters in more than 80 cities in nine countries with thousands of members. But remember, they are unarmed.

Sliwa has, however, admitted to making up some incidents in order to gain publicity for the Angels. He also got into trouble with another kind of family after mouthing off about Mafia don John Gotti. The Dapper Don's son John (Junior) Gotti took exception and, according to the feds, sent a hood named Sean Yannotti to beat him up. But, according to accounts of Yannotti's trial on other charges, the leg breaker got excited and shot Sliwa instead. The feds failed in three trials to get a jury to tie Gotti to the crime and finally gave up. But Sliwa lives in constant pain from his wounds.

All this is to explain that things can rapidly go wrong when people take the law into their own hands. This isn't television, where Clint Eastwood cleans up a gang by blowing them away and we feel good about it.

In real-life situations, innocent people tend to get in the way of bullets and then it's too late. New Haven has come a long way from the wild and wooly days decades ago when Crown Street and Chapel and Howe were evil places to be avoided unless you were looking for a fix or a hooker.

We don't need Dirty Harry around here. We need common sense. Armed patrols by untrained civilians, or those who haven't fired a shot in anger since Korea, don't make sense.

What do you think?

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