Yellow Jacket reaches his hand under his waistband like he’s pulling a gun.
The women shield in front of me. I ask Teddy Bear if she gets scared. “No,” she says. “But I’m always praying.”
The shouts escalate. They advise that ‘duck’ means hit the pavement, ‘shotgun’ means to scatter. They also tell me that should shots ring out, the best place to hide is behind the front of a car, since handgun bullets can’t slice through a car engine.
But Zeek talks Yellow Jacket down.
All this goes down a few feet from a giant Camden Police Mobile Command Post trailer.
The trailer’s empty.
“An argument leads to problems, and problems can lead to death,” says Zeek, 41. A thin scar runs from the right edge of Zeek’s nose to his lip. He got stabbed in the face while patrolling the Long Island Railroad last year.
“See how bad this is? Wait until we leave,” he says. “Wait until next summer.”
A driver in a passing car yells, “Go, Angels, go!”
We head in the opposite direction, passing a cell phone place, a pizza joint and a man who theatrically fake-laughs. Later, a crackhead will taunt, “Where’s my Domino’s pizza at?” They get called ‘Charlie’s Angels.’
“You see that?” asks Life. “They laugh at us but we don’t care.”
Zeek shrugs. “It’s the drug dealers that don’t like us,” he says. “We’re on their turf.”
A Camden cop walks by and slips into a Rainbow NYC shop. Inside, he’s chatting with the shop girls at the register counter. “Nope, I can’t comment, can’t say anything,” he says before I even get to ask him a question, like why he’s hanging out in a women’s clothing store while on duty. “I know, we’re all terrible, right?” he asks. Later and the next day, the same officer sports a bright crossing guard vest and directs traffic, even though official Camden announcements stated that remaining Camden police officers can only respond to violent and escalated situations.
On almost every corner, Guardian Angel recruitment posters are half-torn off lamp posts. Zeek tapes them back together.
We split up. A few Angels want to stop in the McDonald’s around the corner for a break from the cold.
Inside, Terrell Wynne, 39, is polishing off a couple hot apple pies. He recognizes the red jackets. “You gotta have a clean record?” he asks.
Not necessarily. Interest and free time are hard enough to come by, so the Angels do accept people with records, though generally they won’t enlist violent offenders.
“Twenty years ago, it used to be nice [here],” sighs Wynne. “Now, I won’t even walk around.”
We head back to meet up with the other half of the small crew. While we were in McDonald’s, they helped police apprehend a man who was shooting heroin in the bathroom. We also missed the real action: Someone signed up to be the first Angel in the Camden chapter.
“It’s been on my mind a while,” says 23-year-old Jose Soto, a telecommunications professional. “Since I’ve seen them come through Kensington, I’ve been doing a little research.”
Savage Love: Sondheim is solace