1988 Crack Wars – Angels to the Rescue

Clinton Residents Take Stand

Clinton Residents Take Stand

In 1988, as many block residents will remember, NYC was under siege from crack, its users and dealers. And it seemed as if 45th Street had more of it than anywhere in the city. One article said the three-blocks from 45th to 47th had the highest rate of drug-related arrests (over 600 in the first six months of 1988) than anywhere in the city. Although we had been pleading with the NYPD for years, coverage was lacking. Whether it was lack of will, lack of resources, or the same-old-game of Midtown North and Midtown South Police Precincts pointing their fingers at each other, we can’t say. But push came to shove in the summer of 1988.

Many of us had engaged in “Good Guy Loitering,” essentially a block patrol. Some just sat on their stoops. Some were out every night and others had assigned nights of the week. We had no cel phones back then, just whistles and flashlights, a little training and a lot of common sense. We intentionally avoided confrontation, but as soon as we saw an obvious drug deal, prostitute, john or even someone wanting to take a piss, we shone the lights and blew the whistles. It was enough to draw attention to the behavior and people we wanted off the block. See Clinton Residents Take Stand in War on Crime – Newsday, July 17, 1987

And then there were the Guardian Angels. They were invited in by Restaurant Row and others. Mayor Koch, Police Chief Ward and his brass were rightly embarrassed, but it wasn’t as if they didn’t know. In early June 1988 the Angels and some street types had an altercation. One Angel was stabbed, the plate glass window at the Camelot Coffee shop was shattered, and the war zone became the clean zone. Police descended to cover their embarrassment, as did journalists who saw the issue in a sensationalist light. 45th and 46th Streets were national news for a few weeks (Restaurant Row got the bulk of the press, but 45th was more impacted in our opinion). While the papers ran editorials and indeed, some legal issues were appropriately raised, we enjoyed a bit of quiet, for a while, and we thanked the Angels.

Here are some articles (all in PDF, in some cases the quality is wanting).