Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=200083
Story Retrieval Date: 6/19/2013 11:59:18 AM CST
A red beret doesn’t exactly scream toughness, but when the Guardian Angels see crime on the CTA, they mean business.
This group of volunteers, whose trademark red berets have become a familiar sight on El platforms, encourages people to fight back when attacked.
“If someone is trying to take your wallet or iPhone, you should give it to them,” said Fernand Vargas, a Guardian Angel who leads self-defense classes throughout Chicago. “But when the person tries to move you … take you in their car or into an alley, that’s when you need to fight back.”
The Guardian Angels started in New York and launched a Chicago chapter in 1981.. The group of 50 active members patrols Chicago El and bus stops and holds self-defense seminars in neighborhoods where there has been an attack or rape.
The Guardian Angels held a class last week in Logan Square after a Feb. 4 attack on a woman in the 1500 block of North Damen Avenue. The course gave people the basic skills on how to free themselves from an attacker.
“It’s not a martial arts course. It’s not a cardio course. It’s a self-defense course,” said Miguel Fuentes, the Chicago Guardian Angels chapter leader. “It’s a course on how not to become a victim.”
The Guardian Angels patrol El and bus stops five to six days a week and make “citizen arrests” when they see someone committing a robbery or assault, sometimes using force to detain an attacker until police arrive.
“We’re not the police,” Fuentes said. “We’re just regular people out there deterring crime and using our right to make a citizen’s arrest.
“If I tell you to stop and you stop, there’s no problem. If you try to attack us or run, we have to go after you.”
The CTA did not respond to request for comment on the Guardian Angels.
The Guardian Angels pass along their knowledge to citizens who are looking to prepare themselves against an attack. Chicago resident Maria Melo said the information she received at last week’s class was invaluable.
“I learned so much,” she said. “I learned the basic soft points that most women can do as far as defending themselves without a lot of strength. I always thought you had to be a fighter to defend yourself.”
Vargas’ two-hour class demonstrated a variety of techniques people can use to fend off an attacker, including shouting loudly to bring attention to yourself, using everyday items such as a key or cigarette lighter as a weapon, and knowing the pressure points that can hurt an attacker.
But Vargas said that although his class gives people the techniques to fight an attacker, motivation to fight back is more important than skill. “Perfect will beats perfect skill.”
Bruce Geary, a martial arts instructor, attended Tuesday’s meeting because he has heard of the effectiveness of Vargas’ techniques.
“I wanted to see the techniques he uses,” Geary said. “I think it’s brilliant. It’s well taught. I think even a 4-year-old could come and understand the concepts that he teaches.”
The Guardian Angels started patrolling the subway system in New York City in 1979 and today have 139 chapters in 18 countries.