This is an interview article I conducted with Guardian Angels’ founder Curtis Sliwa for Inside Kung-fu magazine. They were about to publish it when they closed their magazine down for good. Since it didn’t get published there I wanted to share it on my Web site. It’s a great article about local terrorism and Mr. Sliwa provides some great tips on how to tackle these problems.
Taking a Stand
Guardian Angels Founder Curtis Sliwa Provides Ways to Prevent Local Terrorism
Interview by: Michael Miller
Violence is an everyday occurrence around the world. We read it in the newspapers and see it on the news daily. Rapes, murders, kidnappings, school shootings, assaults, and bullying are among the common problems we face as citizens in our communities. Perpetrators lurk the streets, schools, and internet creating havoc and increasing the fear we have for our children’s safety.
Curtis Sliwa has made a serious impact on deterring world violence since 1979 while living in the Bronx and watching his city deteriorate through drug and gang infestations. He knew he had to do something to clean up his streets, so he took an active approach and created the Guardian Angels—a voluntary, weapon free program to take charge by patrolling the streets and making citizens arrests to create a safer environment.
The Guardian Angels began with thirteen people and has grown immensely over the past thirty years. Aside from constantly patrolling the streets, the Guardian Angels provide education for everyday citizens to take responsibility for their environment. In this interview Sliwa talks about some of the problems we face and what we as citizens can do as preventative measures.
INSIDE KUNG-FU: Local Terrorism such as bullying, school shootings, gang violence, harassment, assaults, and abductions seems to be happening everywhere. Can you explain why these kinds of activities occur in our society?
CURTIS SLIWA: I think today, because the way young people are brought up, they are exposed to this at younger and younger ages. There’s less supervision at home; less supervision in the community; so, often times, when they either become a bully or they become a victim, they do so at a much, much younger age and there is no intervention. Nobody is telling them that’s right, or no it’s wrong. [These negative behaviors are] also promoted by the culture: the rap videos, the hip hop videos, the videos that they see even from people who are successful in the business world. They brag about how they bullied their way to the top. Like on the ‘Apprentice’ with Donald Trump. ‘You’re fired’, ‘You’re Fired.’ So they see this from the most successful people; they see this in sports, with people talking trash on the basketball court. So it just begins to affect every aspect of their life. Bullies always seem to become number one second to none and if you give into a bully, and as a victim, you just become a human speed bump.
IKF: How can we as citizens stop people from bullying us, and how can we keep from becoming a bully?
CS: I think in terms of the role modeling effect, human beings in general have to show far more humility. We’ll call it the agony of defeat and the exaltation of triumph. Too often now we dance on somebody’s grave; we exalt in their pain and their suffering. We do this on so many different levels. We need to understand the young people are absorbing all this so we have to show some humility, we have to be humble; there’s almost none of that around.
Simply at a young age we have to do intervention when we can see that a young person clearly is being affected by outside sources or the dysfunction of the home that they’re coming from. Either so much so they become inhibited, they’ve lost self-esteem, they’re introverted, or they themselves have imitated what they’ve seen and become a bully, because it’s very empowering and very exciting. So either or we have to intervene and we have to enable them to be able to change and yet still feel some of those things that excite young people. That’s really the trick in all of that. You know, how do you replace the excitement of being a gang member, a thug, bullying people where they’re very empowering? You need to find something that is going to replace that and yet help them become a protector instead of a predator.
IKF: What is cyber bullying and what does it entail?
CS: Cyber bullying is just an extension of what we have seen in the school yard; what we have seen in homes across America, in neighborhoods, in parks. And that is where young people will end up taking advantage of other young people and now can do that anonymously from the comfort of their own room. In front of their computer or terminal they can take on various aliases, have different e-mail addresses, and now can search the networking sites. They can literally almost stalk you, whether it’s tweeting on twitter, whether face booking, whether posting messages on message boards and virally sending images out that might be very disturbing in terms of what they are attempting to do to another person. It’s almost like a form of psychological warfare.
Cyber Angels is able to conduct that intervention, bring it to peoples attention, outsource a solution to people who deal with the subject matter—people who deal with both the victims and the bullies of cyber stalking and cyber bullying, and try to remedy it so that it doesn’t happen again; so these same people who are either victim or predator don’t fall into the same set of circumstances that triggered their either negative or passive response to begin with.
IKF: The internet seems to be a critical tool for perpetrators and bullies. What are some things people can do to prevent their children from being bullied or targeted by these perpetrators online?
CS: First off, the main thing is to have an open line of communication with your child. You don’t want them to just be a good news bear. You want them to tell you bad things—the things they see. The whole concept, if you see it, say it. Encourage the child, because they are facing an extraordinary array of pressures, an extraordinary array of peer group pressure that basically boils down to snitches get stitches and end up in ditches. The idea is that you don’t rat anyone out. In fact if you’re a victim, they have so perverted it, if you are a victim of bullying whether it be cyber bullying or regular old fashioned bullying maybe you deserved it because you were a punk, you were soft, you were weak. So instead of people attempted to escape that, figuring out a way out of it, their believing that they are weak anyway and it’s survival of the fittest.
Naturally online it’s even more difficult, because a lot of parents and grandparents and adults are a dollar short and a day late when it comes to their computer skills and the kids can basically bounce rings around them when it comes to operating on the internet, or even operating on social networking sites or texting, or using any of these wireless technology that’s available. And that’s the problem; parents, grandparents, young adults, they know about old fashioned bullying, but it’s very difficult for them to get a grip on cyber bullying and that usually impacts on children, girls, women, you know those who are most vulnerable.
IKF: Perpetrators lurk in schools, neighborhoods, streets, subways and the internet. What can be done to identify these kinds of people and how can we as citizens take a stand?
CS: First off they have to be outed. They cannot be allowed to remain anonymous. They cannot be allowed to be able to operate in the shadows. In fact, many of these bullies, those who become leaders of groups who commit these kinds of violations against humans, whether it’s cyberspace or in the normal realm of streets or neighborhoods, they do so and they get a vicarious thrill about organizing others to go out and do the deed. They need to be outed. Obviously, we need to put peer pressure on them and make it completely uncool to do it. And then because some of them love to be a rebel without a cause and they love to be bad, because bad in their mind, according to the sub culture is good, then there has to be commiserate penalties.
If you’re found guilty of committing these violations you either have to face incarceration, or you’re gonna have to face spending some juvie time, or your gonna have to face some serious consequences that require you to go to counseling and then to reciprocate back to the victims or to the community by doing massive amounts of community service. So we gotta make their lives miserable. Right now it’s not.
IKF: It seems that the martial arts have played a key role in Guardian Angels training. Can you explain your thoughts about the martial arts and the involvement they have had with the Guardian Angels?
CS: The martial arts has been a key when taken from it’s old school ways, which is the influence that I had from watching the seven samurai, which eventually was made into the magnificent seven, an American western that was based on the seven samurai: Those who could defend themselves, but then offer their services to the defenseless—those who could not defend themselves. The idea was that if you had these skills, if you were adept in martial arts and self-defense that you would use those skills not just in defense of yourself, but in defense of community and everyone else and not necessarily ask for anything in return; a form of selfless service.
Unfortunately, martial arts in the United States has gotten away from that old concept because in America everything epitomizes the individual—I and me. They don’t think teamwork—us and we. I have taken the concept initially that others had carried on, by applying the martial arts to group self-defense; protecting those who cannot defend themselves: the elderly, the women, the children.
Taking it to a whole different level, I would say that was the initial roots; whereas in America martial arts has become for the most part very much I and me. You’re in the ring. You’re testing your skill against an opponents’ skill. And although there’s team competition and you might be part of a dojo or you might be a part of a participatory exercise that involves group techniques, it’s really all about you—all about the individual. I try to stay away from that.
IKF: What kind of martial arts training do you have Guardian Angels go through?
CS: Because we have groups now in 14 countries and 140 cities, we first find who might be available locally in that community to conduct the training. We have a set training program that involves the fine things that men, women and young adults have to be able to learn. Let’s say in the case of Sean Kelley. Here it is Kenpo. This is his skill. He moves to Florida from Pennsylvania. He’s establishing his credentials in the martial arts world there, but he’s also living in a community that’s experiencing increasing crime. He comes in voluntarily to offer his service, to volunteer and patrol, but he has the accreditation in Kenpo to actually teach others and after looking at the program and figuring out what in Kenpo we could use to help train the local group.
We allow the martial arts instructor to utilize their own form of martial art, those techniques that might actually be applicable to our training program which is pretty extensive. It’s got two hundred and thirty six pages. A lot of it deals with physical self-defense and conditioning and group defense. But then there are other things like citizens arrest procedures, CPR and first aid, and role playing and simulation.
There are Sean Kelley’s all over the world. Some of them are accredited in Kung-fu, some are accredited in Jiu-Jitsu, and some have been fighters, boxing and wrestling. There is no one particular martial art or type of self-defense that is preferred. What we say is, whatever your proficient in, whatever you are accredited in, as long as you can apply what you know of your particular form of self-defense to the training manual and you’re willing to give the time and supervise the training and be a role model and example, we say go for it.
IKF: The Guardian Angels believe in Inter-activism. Could you explain this concept?
CS: We’re like an open book. You want to see what we do, how we do it, feel free to do it at any point. We don’t prevent people from understanding what we do and how we do it. We encourage people to get involved and that’s where the interaction takes place. We don’t care who you are: black, white, Hispanic, Asian, male, female. Everyone is going to be treated equally. Clearly we’ll give some people opportunities to participate because they have had problems in the past maybe with drugs or alcohol, or they’ve committed a crime or have been dysfunctional.
We give them an opportunity to rectify all that by becoming a guardian angel member, which is unique because there are a lot of groups who won’t do that. We want to have partnerships with existing organizations whether it’s a boys club, girls club, social service organization, martial arts academy, we want to have as many partnerships in what communities we have a presence in as possible because we understand we don’t have the answer. We are just one option in a wardrobe of options that people can have access to if they decide they have had enough and they are going to get involved and they want to fight back and they want to do it within the parameters of the law.
IKF: How can people get involved with the Guardian Angels?
CS: The first thing is they have to go to the website www.guardianangels.org to see if there is an existing chapter in their area around the world in the fourteen countries, one hundred and forty cities. And if there isn’t then obviously e-mail us about the possibility to begin an effort in establishing the guardian angel move. Those groups range from areas as diverse as Mexico City (population 20 million) to little rural subjects in Western New Jersey (population 4,000) with no police department. It has nothing at all to do with the size of the community whether it’s a urban area, suburban or rural area, whether it’s in the United States or anywhere in the world. It’s all about whether there is one person who is going to make the difference. That’s all we need to start—one man or one woman. If they’re willing to motivate themselves, do the heavy lifting, carry the efforts forward we will give the tactical air support for that.
IKF: It seems that many people complain about violence, but never want to take an active approach to deter it from happening. What do you say to these people?
CS: Well they’re paralyzed in fear, apathy and indifference. They don’t think that their participation in anything is gonna make any difference. They become very jaded, very skeptical, and I understand. They are also paralyzed because we live in a society where everyone is afraid of getting sued and losing every nickel, dime and penny.
In thirty one years we have done tens of thousands of physical interventions to break up fights and disputes to send people on their own way and it doesn’t necessitate getting the cops involved. There’s been thousands of citizens’ arrests where we do get the cops involved because we have to physically detain a suspect and turn him over to law enforcement. And in all those years we’ve never once been sued. In reality use the skills that you’ve been trained with and stop worrying about litigation or sued or losing every nickel, dime and penny you have, because that’s the kind of paralysis that keeps people from getting involved and making a difference.
About the author:
Michael Miller is an expert in self-defense, personal protection, personal development, and fitness. He has been involved with martial arts for over twenty years and currently holds a 4th degree black belt in American Kenpo (one of the leading systems of self-defense), and also studies and teaches boxing, kickboxing, Joe Lewis Fighting Systems and Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu (no Gi). He has been featured several times in Inside Kung-fu and Black Belt magazines as an authority in his field. He runs the only full-time martial arts studio in the history of Bradford, Pa (Miller’s Kenpo Karate Dojo), which is also the only full-time studio in McKean County. He can be reached through his web site at www.millersdojo.com, through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 814-368-3725.