By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
It's a little past 11 on a balmy June night. Jack Zero stands in a patch of yellow light on the corner of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue, wearing a Kevlar vest and cradling a skateboard modified with forearm straps for use as a riot shield.
When he spots two more people in Kevlar outside the subway station—a martial arts instructor and a young woman packing a foot-long flashlight—he quickly crosses the street, prepared for the night's crime watch.
Ever since 32-year-old Mark Carson was shot in the face after leaving a gay bar on May 18, the citizen crime-prevention squad New York Initiative (NYI) has been patrolling the West Village. It wasn't just Carson's murder that caused concern. The city has seen a sharp uptick in anti-gay hate crimes, with five reports in May alone.
In the past, NYI has spent nights breaking up fights in Harlem and keeping watch over a Canarsie neighborhood plagued by rape. The martial arts instructor, who goes by the name Dark Guardian, worked three years chasing coke dealers out of Washington Square Park. The group also served as night security during Occupy Wall Street's Zuccotti Park protests.
The group used to dress as superheroes, but that changed when they felt the press characterized them as silly thrill-seekers. "We put on the mask to tell the story, to get people engaged," Zero says. "But we saw that the superhero thing was doing us more damage than good." NYI is now composed of security specialists and defense enthusiasts, though the superhero nicknames remain intact.
Fifteen minutes into the night's patrol, Zero finds a man wiped out outside Monster Bar, the back of his skull revealing a sticky stamp of blood. Zero applies pressure as the fallen man's friend, Shaun Keappock, kneels beside him.
"You hit your head, honey," Keappock tells his dazed friend. "There's somebody taking care of you right now. There's a professional guy here."
"I want to sing," the man with the bleeding head mumbles. "I'll sing with you," Zero says. Together they keen a slurred rendition of Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All."
Zero, who works club security in the meatpacking district, has been doing this sort of thing for roughly a decade. So has Dark Guardian. Meredith, a 23-year-old horse-trainer who carries herself like the girl most likely to foul you during an intramural soccer match, took self-defense lessons for two years before joining NYI.
The team routinely responds to incidents requiring first aid; Zero says he once plugged a bullet wound in Bed-Stuy. But the primary goal is to prevent crime before it happens using de-escalation training, the stuff they teach you in the Peace Corps. When the Village was experiencing a string of muggings between Stonewall Inn and the PATH train two years ago, NYI watched drunk singles make their way to the station. If any large groups started following a vulnerable-looking guy, Zero and a man named Shortcut say they would crouch low on their skateboards and pop up by the target at the last second. The would-be muggers turned around.
Back on Grove Street, the man who fell has been inspected by medics. Keappock is touched. He feels the new fear encroaching on the city. "There have been times when I go home late and I hear some nasty things," he says. "And when I walk from here to the 6 [train], people try to lure you in. They try to hit on you if you're a staggering gay. A friend of mine has been mugged twice this year alone because of the whole staggering-gay thing."
NYI plans to hold free self-defense classes for residents in July.
"That was exactly what I was thinking when I first heard all this violence was happening," says Mitch Ferrino, Monster Bar's night manager. He's been called a fag a couple of times in Chelsea by "idiots on vacation with their drinking buddies," but believes the area is generally safe.
"I want to take a self-defense class. I go to the gym all the time, but this is for show," Ferrino laughs, shrugging his toned shoulders.
As NYI continues down Christopher Street, three cops from the Sixth Precinct stationed outside the Village Smoke Shop perk up. When one, Officer Sullivan, asks what the Initiative is doing, he quickly nods his head. "Just have a safe night," he says.
At one point, both Dark Guardian and Zero wanted to be on the force. Dark Guardian even took the test. But after they learned of the NYPD's enforcement quotas, both decided the police department wasn't for them.
"A lot of people don't want to deal with police," Dark Guardian says. "We don't believe all police are bad, but we believe the police need to work a little differently with the community.
Once, after he helped police chase down a suspect, he says he saw a cop kick the man in the face. He filed a report, but the suspect decided not to press charges.
NYI emphasizes maintaining calm and de-escalating confrontation. "Are we somehow intelligent enough to stop the madness instead of making it worse?" Zero asks. "I feel like a lot of other groups run in and escalate the damage."
Still, the group has experienced some danger. When Dark Guardian and a member named Spectre once confronted a pimp in Harlem River Park, they say the pimp threatened them instead. They called the cops, who searched the pimp's house, discovering a handgun, an AR-15, two high-capacity magazines, and nearly 900 rounds of ammunition.
Another member, Tango, posed as bait during the Park Slope groper scare last summer. When she left Freddy's Bar, pretending to be drunk, other members trailed her, taking down license plate numbers of the men who tried to get her into their cars.
But most of the time, all NYI has to do is stand there, Zero says.
The team spots a large crowd of teenagers hanging outside a Village flower shop that's experienced a spate of robberies. Zero, Dark Guardian, and Meredith walk up to examine the buckets of sunflowers. "Did you know dandelions are really good for you?" Zero asks his team.
"Skateboard cop," one teenager mutters to a friend before the crowd thins and disperses.
Thank you for clarifying your point of view and thought process, Stevart. Exodus International much? Better days ahead!
Stevart is obviously a troller. I would not bother to respond.
Whoa. That's awesome. Probably some of the better coverage we've gotten...ever.
For anyone curious about the NYI, as well as the other branches of the Initiative Collective, check out www.ICHQ.org
While you're at it, you might get a kick out of their upcoming documentary project: Taking Initiative: Nation of Heroes. >> https://www.facebook.com/NationOfHeroes
The LGBT movement will bring about a bloodbath in this country and ANY country in which it is adopted. We are witnessing the early stages of it in NYC, AND it will only get worse despite the best efforts of the "crimefighters" above.
@Stevart I am sorry, let's get one thing clear. It's not the LGBT movement that brings about the bloodbath, it's the ignorance and hate that people have against the LGBT community. Would you say that African Americans brought chaos to the society during the civil right movement?
@Stevart Led by ignorance wearing the cloak of religion to shield them from guilt and responsibility. What a great time we live in..
The argument that civil rights to overcome racial discrimination is continuing with the LGBT movement is absurd. Gay marriage is an abomination and NOT the civil rights' issue you think it is. BTW, the black churches aren't on board with LGBT. You might claim this is ignorance on their parts but it is rather common sense. I also understand that there is NO way I or anybody could convince another person that same-sex marriage is bad...which IS my point: that the coming bloodbath will re-allign human behavior with human nature as there will be more important things to do to ensure survival, like the basic necessities: food, water and shelter, and not to mention the threat of terrorism, etc. than worrying about some degenerate pipe dream. I don't want to see anybody get hurt AND we are ALL victims of senseless violence...and THAT is why I encourage the so called LGBT community to lay off the marriage issue. Any victory will be Pyrrhic. Their rhetoric is hysterical and it is they who are the closed minded ones. "Ignorance and hate" HAHAHA! You'll learn, one way or another.
@jhk1776 @Stevart @arona.chu All relationships ARE natural. But marriage is between a man and a woman. What the &^%$ is so difficult about that to understand? I COULD CARE LESS WHO PEOPLE SLEEP WITH. BUT, you can't call it a marriage and expect that institution and all others to accept that. THAT is why same-sex marriage is an abomination. NOT because I hate gays... GET OVER YOURSELF and TRY to develop the ability to engage in a clear and cogent discussion.
@arona.chu @Stevart The LGBT agenda is attempting to fundamentally alter what is the most natural AND the most precious aspect of human relations that literally produces life on this planet; an aspect of human nature that is rooted in biology, IMPLACABLE NATURE. It can NOT and WILL not work and humanity will push back. Everything about your argument presupposes that same sex unions are separate but equal to opposite sex unions when in fact THEY ARE NOT! You are sowing the seeds for society's holocaust....LITERALLY. Please stop the violence NOW.
@Stevart @arona.chu "Gay marriage is an abomination", who are you to make that claim? "Civil" refers to ordinary citizens, naturally "civil rights" refers to the rights of these ordinary, non-second class citizens. If you disagree, then may I ask who are you to exclude gay people from the "ordinary"?
Sure many black churches are do nto support gay rights, but just because certain people does not support certain things does not mean that it is "wrong". Our society affects how we think, but we create our own social construct which tells us what is "socially acceptable". Interracial marriage was also an "abomination" according to some, but you cannot say the same now because it has become socially acceptable, but who should be the one to judge? And who are you to tell other people what is right and what is wrong. How is the way other people live affects you? "Ignorance and hate" is not funny when you actually see it in front of your eyes. For you to have the audacity to ask gay people to "lay off the marriage issue" and call it a "degenerate pipe dream" , you clearly do not understand the importance to be able get married for gay people. You clearly do not understand how many families are torn apart; how many people have died simply because of the lack of this right. You clearly do not realize that many fights terrorism and die for this country; many fights to secure the necessities but failed to be treated equally as you take your rights for granted. That, is what I call ignorance.
Like you said, I cannot change the way you think, but for you to blame all this unwanted "senseless violence" back onto the LGBT community is basically saying that gay people deserve to be beaten up because they are gay. Just like how women and blacks were thought to be inferior simply because they are women or black. Stevart, that is not promoting peace. That is promoting war.