Okay, D.B., here’s the pitch. We do a remake of an old East Side Kids film, see, but with Sly Stallone as the Mugs McGinnis type, and we get some serious social-conscience director. Anyway Sly plays a brilliant but unpredictable kid from Brooklyn—say Canarsie—an outstanding student, Jesuit schools, close to his family, stays out of trouble, not afraid of anyone. But he is totally off the wall sometimes. I mean, he’s the student-body president. But what happens? He gets his ass kicked out his senior year for urging the kids to defy some silly dress code. Okay so he drops out and takes some odd jobs—you know, gas station, newsboy—he gets honored by the president, he saves seven people from a burning building, goes to work for a McDonald’s and organizes an antilitter campaign that covers all five boroughs of New York City. He personally collects five and a half tons of reusable trash and has the whole fucking pile of it sitting in front of his parents’ home. The next thing—he’s in his early 20s now—he turns up with about a dozen minority teenagers wearing red berets and T-shirts, calling themselves something fancy like the Guardian Angels. They follow him around the subways at night, putting a citizen’s collar on muggers and other crazies. The first night out they break up a gang rape in the worst section of Brooklyn, and when one of the rapists points a shotgun at him, he pops him in the snotlocker with a Bruce Lee-type drop kick and he falls off the elevated platform but lands in an eight-foot-high pile of uncollected garbage that saves his life; or maybe this—stay with me, D.B.—he jumps off between the cars of a train as it pulls out of the station and single-handedly rounds up four knife-wielding teenagers who are terrorizing some women passengers. Now, here’s the hook. The people love him, the old folks, the women, even the minorities think he’s some sort of hero, but the powers that be, the mayor; the governor and the police commissioner; they ignore him or call him some sort of publicity-hungry fascist vigilante, but he keeps going, see, and soon there are nearly a thousand of these Guardian Angels all over New York. Then he opens chapters all over the country, addresses congressional hearings on urban crime, and then he goes—what? Whad’ya mean it’s too farfetched?
High Times: How did you develop the concept of the Guardian Angels?
Sliwa: It evolved slowly based on my experiences with other volunteer services: community clean-up, recycling, senior-citizen programs. Also by viewing other volunteer groups and taking the best of what I’d seen and eliminating the worst. I had always thought about the Guardian Angels, didn’t have a name but I always thought that young people, since they created most of the problems, could and should be used in terms of helping people.
High Times: Did you read much as a kid?
Sliwa: I was a history buff. When I was eight, nine, ten, instead of reading novels I’d read whole history books. European, precivilization, Roman, you name it. I used to read these big, massive volumes—look at the pictures first, then read the book.
High Times: Was there any one book that really impressed you, that influenced what you’re doing now with the Angels?
Sliwa: Oh, yeah. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. The book was the story of European immigrants: Lithuanian, Polish, that whole sector. And how they came to the New World, settled in Chicago and got involved in the meat-packing industry. And then the problem of the blacks coming in and taking their low-paying jobs. The struggle of unions, the political struggles with the Irish and police, the shantytowns, all types of things. It showed me how much people put up with to get a foothold in this country. I was working at the time at a local butcher shop after school, delivering meat. I was reading it while riding the bike with no hands. I couldn’t put the book down.
High Times: But what do the fertilizer pits and Lithuanian immigrants of The Jungle have to do with the formation of the Guardian Angels?
Sliwa: Well, even though today we don’t have people in fertilizer pits, the parallels are clear. Now the descendants of “the jungle” have inherited power and the same things occur. First the Irish complained about the Italians who came here before them, then the Italians went off on the blacks, and the blacks went off on the Hispanics. So it’s really not a question of race, it’s not a question of intent, it’s just a question of who’s on top and who’s on the bottom. Now in Philadelphia blacks, whites and Hispanics beat on the Vietnamese. Does it make sense?
High Times: So that’s what gave you your social conscience—Sinclair’s Jungle?
Sliwa: That, reading history and my Pops. He was a merchant seaman, very worldly. He saw situations in other countries where people were being shot in the streets because they uttered a word against their leader. When I had a question he could put it in a frame of reference—in this country they do this, and so on.
Another thing I learned from him was not to be overintellectual. Many times intellectualizing problems hides an inability to deal with them. Like when I was in Minneapolis talking to the police commissioner, and he was saying, “I like your program, Mr. Sliwa. I like what the Guardian Angels do. But your simplistic approach in no way shape or form has anything to do with lessening crime. Crime is so complicated, it has so many pieces. We must sit and we must analyze it and study it.” I said, “Sir, by the time we study it, we will have no more room for the locks on the doors. We will have no more room for the extra bar on the window. We must begin taking steps now within the law, that will protect our lives.”
High Times: How does one become a Guardian Angel? Let’s say I come to your door, introduce myself and say I want to be a Guardian Angel. What happens?
Sliwa: Number one, you’ve got to be sixteen and be personally recommended by someone who’s already in the group. For instance, we’ll go to Wanda Ortiz and say “We’re using you as a recommendation for Tom Baker.” Her ass is on the line for your activity; if you do anything wrong she loses her shirt.
High Times: Is there any way to become a member without being sponsored by someone already in the group?
Sliwa: Yeah, if you have good qualifications, martial arts certification or some kind of training. Everyone must patrol at least two four-hour shifts a week. You cannot carry weapons, drugs or drug paraphernalia with you during patrol. If you come to the patrol intoxicated or high, you’re gone.
High Times: How about drug use in general with the members?
Sliwa: I’m sure, on the outside. Snort, pot. I don’t doubt that at all.
High Times: How do you go about training novice Angels?
Sliwa: Now there are two key areas of difference: chapters outside New York and chapters inside New York. It’s the same format; it’s just done a little bit differently. All told it takes two and a half to three months to become a Guardian Angel. Outside of New York City you learn in a closed environment, but in New York City snap, we’ll get you right down into it. Because crime is all over the place. New York City is a different breed of cat. A different preacher. You learn not just by studying the penal code and the rights of the citizen and how to make a citizen’s arrest, but also by seeing patrols, seeing the interaction between experienced patrol leaders and patrollers and the public, the cops. Because there are things that happen here in New York City that don’t happen anywhere else across the country. You don’t have the animosity anywhere else that you have here with the police. You have bad neighborhoods in other cities and particularly bad strips, but here in New York City it’s guerrilla warfare. It’s all-out hell here sometimes. Whereas at least when I patrol with the groups in other cities I get a break.
High Times: Even Philadelphia?
Sliwa: Yeah. You see a few blades of grass, a few trees, a calmness sets in. You’re not this uptight. In New York you’re constantly uptight and you know that things can break out just like that. Even if you’re on the Upper East Side. You cannot relax. Philly hey, you go to certain neighborhoods, man, and there’s a relaxed feeling that… hey, say, wow, this is great.
High Times: Are there any education requirements for Angels?
Sliwa: No. We have people who can’t read or write.
High Times: Well, besides the obvious, don’t you think it’s important, in terms of self-image, for your members to be able to read and write well? Wouldn’t a self-help or self-improvement program be enormously beneficial to them?
Sliwa: They can get it on the outside. They’ll have to, or they won’t survive as Angels. Angels move too fast and furiously. Being a Guardian Angel, you’re forced to develop confidence because so many people come up to you asking you about the Angels: “Hey just read Jane Byrne in Chicago called you a bunch of assholes.” Now you say, “Shit, who’s Jane Byrne in Chicago? What the hell? Woman mayor? What’s a woman mayor?” Then you begin to read up on it. Because you feel like a jerk. People in the train know more about your group than you do. And so you go out and buy newspapers and you go to libraries.
High Times: Are there any martial arts requirements for Angels?
Sliwa: No martial arts requirement, just an ability on your part to defend yourself. You don’t have to be Bruce Lee because you’re always in a group of eight or more. But you must have an ability to block a punch, block a kick.
High Times: The minimum patrol is eight?
High Times: You began the Guardian Angels in February 1979 with only thirteen members. How many members do you have now?
Sliwa: Seven hundred in New York City and four hundred around the country. That only includes those who have earned the red beret and the T-shirt. There are usually quite a few people who have not earned their shirts. It takes a while. We have active patrols in Philadelphia, New York City, Stamford, Connecticut, Atlanta, Georgia, and five cities in New Jersey: Trenton, Elizabeth, Newark, Jersey City and Hoboken. We also have, either close to graduation or in a slightly earlier stage, chapters planned in Boston, Miami, Houston, Cleveland, San Francisco, Albuquerque and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
High Times: Critics have characterized you as the leader of a group of vigilantes. They’re wary of your expanding program and, I would imagine, your political influence as well.
Sliwa: Yeah, the New York Times crowd.
High Times: Do you have any political ambitions?
Sliwa: No. Because right now as the leader of the Guardian Angels, which is now a national organization, I can have more of an effect on a person’s day-to-day life, through the patrols, than I could as governor. But using the Guardian Angels as a network for organizing political power is not my bag. I’m into getting people to do things for themselves, purely and simply. I don’t believe in the idea of government being the cure-all. I believe it has to come from within yourself and then from without.
We’re a society that’s so totally dependent on government it’s absolutely insane. We move, sleep, eat and breathe according to the way government clicks its fingers. I think people have to be able to take upon themselves a lot of their own problems. Don’t wait for others to do for you what you can do for yourself. That’s not a political philosophy.
High Times: There is then no particular ideology you would associate with the Angels?
Sliwa: No. It’s wrong for us to imply a particular ideology or philosophy when we’re supposed to be representing everyone. Ours is more of a purpose organization than an ideological one. If we do have an ideology though, it’s simply that you don’t mess around with other people and you don’t mess around with their property. Rich, poor, or in between, it’s wrong. Lay off. The day that the Guardian Angels back one particular candidate over another, the day that the Guardian Angels take a stance on a political subject that has in no way shape or form anything to do with the services that they are providing, that’s the day that we discredit the organization and go down the tubes.
High Times: In other words, their politics are to be checked at the door.
Sliwa: Yeah, the only problem is that politics surrounds our group. Every time I open my mouth, it’s a political statement.
High Times: It takes a special type of person to make the Guardian Angels. But there must be plenty of kids who don’t have the skill or the toughs to make it out there in the jungle. Can’t they be involved somehow?
Sliwa: There are young people who are capable of getting involved in volunteer service, but who in no way shape or form have the skills to be Guardian Angels, because of physical limitations and inability to personally control themselves. The idea is that the Guardian Angels are going to expand into many areas of volunteer service, like helping out senior citizens, for example.
To be able to stand there in a train and have three guys taunting you, saying things like “Fuck the Angels,” “Your mother sucks dick.” That’s the whole beauty of the group: to demonstrate self-control.
The other importance of the group is—especially in New York City—that it is the only time it’s ever been demonstrated that blacks and Hispanics are good for something other than ending up on Riker’s Island. I mean, all blacks and Hispanics have this idea about themselves, that the only place they’re going to end up is on Riker’s Island. It’s a sickness.
You don’t know how many black and Hispanic guys, older men and women, come up to me and say, “You know, yours is the only program where our people—our people, including me and I’m not black or Hispanic, they lose their heads for a second—our people are showing that we can do more than just rip people off.” It’s the only way they have to show that they can fight back and win.
High Times: The Angels started in New York City patrolling the subways, and to a large extent you’ve become identified solely with that type of work. Now, though, you have chapters in many cities that don’t have a subway system. How do you operate in these areas?
Sliwa: Most cities are more in tune to the scenario of Los Angeles than New York. Most major cities don’t have any forms of mass transit aside from buses. And so the group in Los Angeles does what groups in the other sixteen chapters normally do: foot patrols through the neighborhoods and the hot spots; the street scenario down near the discotheques, the main intersections and the 7-Elevens at night where a lot of the petty crime takes place.
High Times: Are these neighborhood patrols comprised of people from that particular neighborhood? For instance, would you use a group of guys from the barrio to patrol West Hollywood?
Sliwa: Well, there would be less problems in that than if we were to take the group from the San Fernando Valley into the barrio, only because of the gang activity of the Chicanos there. But, that changes. Like you go to Philadelphia and you won’t dare march an all-black group into a white area, but you might march an interracial group into a black area. It really varies from city to city. Like Boston, you don’t even bring a white into a black area and you don’t bring a black into a white area.
High Times: By the way, I met your building’s grievance committee while I was coming up the stairs. They were very unhappy.
Sliwa: They are unhappy. Shit.
High Times: They don’t want you guys in the building?
Sliwa: That’s because they don’t give a damn about anybody but themselves. They don’t care about me living here; they object to all the n!#gers and spies going up and down. That’s exactly the way they tongued it.
The fact of the matter is they’ve got no grievance because this is the safest building in the Bronx. They can hang out in front. They can go up and down the halls and not even worry about getting ripped off or mugged or broken into. They have no worries at all.
High Times: They claimed that your people are smoking dope in the lobby and up on the roof.
Sliwa: That’s baloney. Everybody loves me but nobody wants to live next to me.
High Times: Why do you think crime, street crime in particular, has gotten so out of hand lately?
Sliwa: Just take a look around at all of these young little whippersnappers, the crimes they commit. Jumping from fire escape to fire escape and kicking in doors; all of these crimes can be stopped simply by the people reacting to them. Somebody sees a kid jumping from fire escape to fire escape and doesn’t say anything. Somebody hears a kid kicking in the door. Somebody sees kids staking out apartments and staking out buildings. It would be so easy to say, “Hey what are you looking for?” “Oh, I’m waiting for my friend.” “Who’s your friend?” “Where does he live?” “Does he live here?” “Beat it kid or I’m calling the cops.” That’s what they used to do years ago. Nowadays you’re afraid to even stick your head out the window because somebody is going to shoot you. We live in fear.
I don’t believe that crime is a complicated thing. I believe it’s a very simple thing. Nowadays it’s people, whether they’re rich, poor or in between, who steal because they want things now that they’re not willing to wait for; it is a question of take what you can, when you can take it, or it will be taken from you. So if you happen to be poor and you’re hanging out on the corner and a fellow who lives in the neighborhood is walking past with a brand-new pair of sneakers, the first question you ask is, “Hey man, mighty fine looking sneakers. What size are those?” Right then and there, the dude better not answer the correct size or those sneakers are going to be off his feet because you’re going to have a bullet right upside his head.
High Times: For a pair of sneakers?
Sliwa: That’s right. It’s been done time and time again. Now, okay, that’s the sense of the street crime. You know the viciousness over senseless killing. Over just a forty-dollar pair of sneakers. See, time-honored tradition says you go to Sears, you buy the economy brand of sneakers. They’re retreads: Like you have tire retreads, you have sneaker retreads. All right. Hey, if you ain’t got the bucks you do what you can to get by. But nowadays you say, “Hell, no, man. I want a style, I want Ponies, I want Pumas, I want Adidas.” Sneakers in the ghetto are like a fancy pair of ninety-dollar Florsheim shoes.
High Times: Ghetto Guccis, you might say.
Sliwa: Ghetto Guccis with two different bottles of liquid polish in the back pocket. Spotless. Every block you go you whip out the liquid polish and you just buff, buff any of the brush spots. If somebody bumps into you and scuffs your sneakers you’re ready to blow their brains out. That’s the worst crime you can do is to scuff somebody’s sneakers. And did you notice how they have the laces, the laces that never tie? They are always loose and easy. Now you say to yourself, “That’s a man who’s not ready to snatch a chain.” You know when they’re ready to snatch a chain because they’ve got their laces tied. Because when the laces are loose they can’t run. If they run their sneakers will fall off.
High Times: Why would they have them loose in the first place? Why not just keep them tied all the time?
Sliwa: Because that means you’re ultra cool. It’s like you’re chilly willy. But when you see them tie their sneakers, forget it. Grab your gold because they are ready to snatch and run.
Also, when you see a guy wearing a brand-new pair of sneakers that are unscuffed and he’s got them tied, look out. Because those are not the kind of sneakers you wear except for special occasions. See, you’ve got your special-occasion sneakers, your everyday sneakers and your playground sneakers; many guys have twenty to thirty different pairs of sneakers.
Now on the other end of the spectrum you have the superrich who embezzle billions of dollars or stock. They are also stealing for their necessities. The Jacuzzi, summer home on the Riviera, the mortgage on the yacht, the woman they’ve got tucked off on the side.
High Times: What, as you’ve seen them, have been the effects of drugs and drug use in the urban areas you’ve been patrolling these past years?
Sliwa: Well, I’ll tell you this much. The reason we don’t have riots anymore is because of drugs. If you remember, in the late ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s there was a tremendous upsurge in gang violence. Then all of a sudden there was marijuana, you know, open and public. Then the pills of all different varieties started flying. The gangs began to disperse. People started getting so ripped and stoned that they started straying. There was no structure; there was nothing that began to tie them together. They began to get very introspective. So a whole society of individuals was created as opposed to a people who are into group-oriented things.
I have traveled through every major housing project, places in Cleveland, Houston, Miami, Liberty City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston; they are no different. They are always the same. People are intoxicated; people are stoned off their bird. And rather than try to elevate themselves, rather than try to escape the ghetto, they have created a ghetto mentality in which they only want to remain high twenty-four hours a day.
High Times: Let’s say you see a guy pushing on the street. Can you as an Angel do anything about it?
Sliwa: He could have heroin. He could have poppies growing out of his ears. It’s none of our business. He could have a whole barrel full of cocaine and be walking down the train, walking through the cars and shoveling it into people’s noses and giving it away. It’s none of our business. We just won’t deal with it. We won’t take it but we won’t deal with it either. Pimping, propositioning, none of our business. A person selling hot goods—we don’t question the way he got it. We know it’s hot but it’s none of our business. But God forbid someone should interfere with a person, harass them, rape them, beat them, savage them, steal their personal property vandalize. We’re going to be there to deal with them on that.
High Times: What would happen if you did try to roust a dealer?
Sliwa: What would happen? We would be arrested. Entrapment. We set the guy up, assault and battery. These guys are not stupid. And the next morning you’ll read in the New York Post, the Daily News, “Vigilantes beat up an…” and they won’t mention dope dealer. They’ll say we planted this shit on them because we didn’t like them. Remember, I studied the law, inside and out, and that’s why you don’t see Angels in any correctional facilities in this city. Even with all of the animosity that the cops have generated to us. Because I will not let them get involved where it can be perceived as violating a person’s rights.
High Times: How does it stand now between the Angels and the New York City Police Department? From your group’s inception there was bad blood between you. Every day it seemed the papers were reporting a new bunch of accusations and counteraccusations. Have things gotten better, worse or what?
Sliwa: Well, I’d say that it’s better now because there have been orders from the police chief down to each of the precincts advising the men to cooperate fully with the Angels regarding any civilian arrests we make, and in general to keep from harassing the Angels.
High Times: How would they harass you?
Sliwa: Oh, tickets, summonses, they’d take you down and hold you the complete eight hours, the old anal check, you know. They’d ask for your ID and then they’d write you out a bunch of tickets.
Now, if you didn’t have your personal ID, and when they called home someone did not verify who you were, you spent the whole night in the can. And if it was the weekend, they shipped your butt out to the monkey cage till Monday. Now imagine how degrading that is.
High Times: I know how degrading that is.
Sliwa: Then they’d put you in the monkey tank with your Guardian Angel shirt on, throwing you in with forty or fifty dudes saying, “Hey, fellas, look what we have here. Guardian Angels.” It’s like throwing you to the lions. For a time there were phone calls every night, harassments, tickets, arrests, smoking, criminal mischief—you name it.
High Times: So, has there been a noticeable change in the attitude of the individual policemen that you’ve encountered on patrols?
Sliwa: Those who supported the idea now will speak openly with us, whereas before they were afraid to be seen speaking to us by their peers.
High Times: What was the cops’ argument originally against the Angels?
Sliwa: Their union took the attitude that we were stealing jobs from them, that it was an attack on their ability to get more cops in the future. Their pension and welfare system would suffer; they wouldn’t be able to send their kids to college. They ran the whole trip down to their membership.
High Times: So you were seen as an economic threat.
Sliwa: There was also a certain amount of professional jealousy involved. Just put yourself in their position. You’re a transit cop, ten-year veteran, well decorated, you’ve been in life-or-death situations, have had guns pointed at you and survived. You’re in the worst police environment in the city and you have to operate in this sewer of crime by yourself.
The Guardian Angels come down. You hear clapping, people smacking them on the back—just like the doughboys coming home from World War I. It’s like we’re totally heroes. You look at these predominantly black and Hispanic kids: You’re used to locking these guys up. And, nobody’s saying “good job” to you, even though yesterday you collared three guys with weapons who were assaulting an old man. In fact, the only time that you deal with the public is when they’re yelling at you: “Why aren’t you walking around?” “Why weren’t you there when I got mugged?”
High Times: So you admit that there was reasonable cause for resentment on their part?
Sliwa: No, it was not reasonable. A reasonable cause for resentment would have been if we were in essence trying to do their job, looking to make busts as opposed to acting primarily as a deterrent.
I know if I was a transit cop, I would be very happy to see some people who were down there that I know I could depend on if I was in trouble. You cannot depend on the public. The only people the cops can depend on when they’re in trouble are their fellow people in blue and the Guardian Angels. And that’s what it comes down to.
High Times: Well, Curtis, they obviously don’t feel the same way. Tell us about the time you were taken for a ride.
Sliwa: I had finished visiting the patrols of Fifty-ninth Street on a Sunday night and I was on the way back home riding by myself, got off at Fordham Road, came down the stairs and there was a maroon car in front. A maroon Fury. And I turned the corner and a guy came running out. A tall, lean, black guy, well dressed, with gold jewelry you know, really sharp.
He introduced himself. “Officer Johnson, Transit Police, following your career bro, everything I dig about you guys.”
High Times: He showed you a shield.
Sliwa: Yeah. He flashed a detective shield and he gave me one of those soul shakes, it took about sixteen minutes to get through it all. He had so many variations of it. I was sort of like just gliding through, just leaving my hand out there, because I lost him on about the third shake.
“You’re cool, you’re dynamite, you guys are really great. I’ve been an admirer of yours for a long time. But we’ve got a problem tonight. I hate to have to tell you this. One of your fellas was seriously injured tonight while on patrol on the number six train. We have to go over to Jacobi Hospital. We’re the ones responsible here from district number eleven. Do you want a ride?” So I jumped in the car.
High Times: You believed him totally?
Sliwa: Oh yes.
High Times: Was there anyone else in the car?
Sliwa: We did a U-turn and while he was doing the U-turn I was introduced to the two guys in the back. They were white, gray-haired men, elderly, introduced to me as detectives.
High Times: Did they show shields?
Sliwa: No, I didn’t ask them to. I was convinced. The black dude was strapped. He looked like a detective. It looked like a police car. What the fuck am I going to be questioning them. The thing that bothered me was that the dudes in the back looked kinda old, man. Transit cops do their twenty years and they’re gone.
High Times: In other words they were too old to be on this kind of duty?
Sliwa: I thought so. I have never seen a transit cop wanting to do more than his twenty years. The subways are the pits.
So I’m a little taken back. But they’re being real nice and jovial. Well, I’m looking up ahead, I can now see Jacobi Hospital, and all of a sudden Jacobi’s gone. They didn’t take the cutoff. Now right away—I’m not a stupid guy—I know the deal. That’s Jacobi Hospital. There’s no way you could work in the Bronx and not know that that’s Jacobi Hospital. But you don’t think that I’m gonna be stupid enough to say, “Hey, how come we didn’t stop at Jacobi Hospital?”
By now I got about ten pounds underneath my pants and the steam is rising. I know the deal. The dude up front is strapped, and so are the two guys behind me. They’re not playing around.
We’re heading out to eastern Long Island by now, but, hey, I’m not into playing Superman at forty-five miles per hour. What the hell, if I jump out I’m gonna get squished by oncoming traffic. Anyway we finally pulled off the main roadway at the exit for Jones Beach.
High Times: What time of night was it?
Sliwa: It was somewhere around twelve or one a.m., in the middle of February. And there’s nobody around. The seagulls have vacated. The trees are bundling themselves up. Even the toll booths going out to Jones Beach are boarded up. So we’re on this roadway, the lights are out, and the guy behind me says, “Hey Curtis, I want to tell you something. Let’s say your mother—” “Yeah,” I said. They gave me a two-day portfolio of where both my parents had been.
Then they gave me an hour-by-hour movement of my sister in Queens for two days, and an hour-by-hour movement of my sister, El, in Manhattan for two days and then an hour-by-hour movement of myself.
It wasn’t scary them knowing where I was going because it doesn’t take any great shakes to follow Curtis Sliwa and his movements. It did disturb me to find out that now they’re dragging my family in and the implication was that though superheroes might not get hurt, those close to superheroes might get hurt. That’s the exact way the dude phrased it behind me. So then they pulled off into a side road into one of the parking lots. The black guy turned to me and said, “Look, Curtis, Rocky babe, the night set on your shoulders, you got a great way to rap with the words, you got a great future ahead of you. But, if we ever have to take you on this ride again, the three of us in the car, if we ever have to go on this ride again, the only way you’re gonna leave this car is if we carry you out, and you ain’t gonna be riding in the front seat. You’re gonna be riding in the trunk. Now they ain’t gonna put a scratch on your head. We want you to think hard about what we have said.”
I opened the door and stepped out, and they just phewed out into the darkness. I saw them get onto that little highway and vroom—they left me in the middle of nowhere.
High Times: But nothing ever happened to your family?
Sliwa: Just a lot of threatening phone calls.
High Times: When you were eighteen years old you were given an award by then president Richard Nixon for being among the top hundred newsboys in the country.
High Times: What happened when you met Nixon?
Sliwa: Well, I felt that they were treating me like a little kid, patted on the head, given some cheap tie clip, you know, here’s your lollipop, stick it in your mouth and get the hell out of here. That was the White House’s attitude. They gave me this American flag to wear, and I said, “Why do I have to put on an American flag? I’m American. If I wasn’t American I wouldn’t be here.” Anyway they told me not to make any comments, to accept the award and then just move out of the way of the camera. Well, when my turn came, I refused to move. My pictures with Nixon had to be doctored anyway because I had this pencil sticking out from behind my ear and looked like a butcher boy who wraps meat.
High Times: But didn’t you crack to Nixon about a lollipop or something when he handed you the award?
Sliwa: I said, “By the way, while we’re at it, where’s my lollipop?” He had this expression on his face, like, get this kid outta here! I was rushed out by the White House staff and they were angry and asked me, “Don’t you have any respect for the president?” I told them, “Sure, I respect the guy. But do you really think this trip was worth my while, just so I could get a cheap pen and tie clip?”
High Times: Has there ever been any politician you’ve met, or even just heard speak, that you would consider, if not endorsing as a public figure, supporting as a private citizen?
Sliwa: Absolutely none.
High Times: No elected official, anywhere?
Sliwa: Not impressed by any of them. To me, a politician is like a bowl of Jell-o, shifting from side to side. The politician who can nail Jell-o to the wall, that’s the guy who gets my vote.
High Times: What’s the latest on your running battle with the graffiti gangs of New York City? You’ve always seemed to believe that they were into heavier things than just marking up trains.
Sliwa: There are more graffiti crews in New York City than the combined forces of all the police departments. Graffiti people number past a hundred thousand, easily. The city can’t stop them.
What should be done is that a few of the trains should be scrubbed and the city should provide payment to the artists to do the murals on the outside. Notice I say murals, not pieces, because then it would be a mural, because a piece is done in a yard, in a lay-up, under a tremendous amount of pressure: with the third rail on, with a faulty light system. Most of these guys in the paint parties—that’s what they’re called—take Quaaludes and drink beer and really get ripped and go off for four or five hours. They bring with them maybe twenty, thirty cans of various colored spray paints and different nozzles.
High Times: For all intents and purposes, Curtis, the Guardian Angels was built around personality. And your charisma, more than anything else, has kept them going these last three years. What do you think would happen to your group if you were killed?
Sliwa: Well, first off, let’s hope it doesn’t happen, of course. If it had happened six months ago, the entire organization would have collapsed. There’s no question about it.
High Times: Why is that?
Sliwa: Because it was totally dependent on crisis management. The strength I had was the ability to counterpunch, no matter how many enemies were out there attempting to discredit us and knock us out of existence.
Now we’ve gotten to a point where we have so many chapters, where we have a person, Lisa Evers, who has assisted me and been to most of the cities that I have been, who understands totally the concept, and though she may not know how to deal with all the different personalities on the scene, she would be able to hold the fort together.
High Times: Do you think, though, that Lisa could maintain the authority you so obviously wield over the group, knowing that it stems from the personal respect the Angels feel toward you?
Sliwa: Probably, though Lisa would be caught up in a holding pattern, trying to hold together what was already there instead of continuing on with what we’re doing now.
High Times: Which is expanding.
Sliwa: She would have to retrench, strengthen and then possibly grow. But I would say that the key is handling the people, understanding that every person in the group is important, that they have emotions and feelings. And never take anything too seriously. I have never taken anything too seriously.