Gangs and Guardian Angels in Montana
An Interview With Guardian Angel Ronald Halling
BY LANCE FOUR STAR
On Montana’s seven Indian Reservations, far from Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, gang activity has become a dangerous new reality. Twenty gangs, in all, have been identified across the state. In proximity to the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Reservation, nine known gangs have emerged in the small towns of Poplar and Wolf Point.
With gang activity and influence arriving from outside the reservation, Fort Peck Tribal member and activist Chauncey Whitright sought a possible solution that would also come from beyond the reservation’s borders. In Novem-ber 2009, he contacted Curtis Sliwa of the Guardian Angels, an anti-crime patrol group that has effec-tively dealt with gang violence across the country. Sliwa in turn directed Ronald Halling, Chapter Leader of the Minneapolis Guardian Angels, to visit Montana and assess the situation.
Whitright then asked journalist Lance Four Star, of the Fort Peck Assiniboine Tribe, to conduct an interview with Halling—on the same day, as it happened, that one of the largest prescription drug busts ever, Operation New Beginning, was being conducted in and around the Fort Peck Reservation. On Decem-ber 14, Four Star sat down with Guardian Angel Ronald Halling and recorded the following interview.
LFS: You mentioned that you are Native American—what tribe?
RH: Yes, I am Native American, I am from the White Earth Indian Reservation. I grew up with the Santee Sioux in Flandreau, South Dakota. I did go to the Indian School there for about a year, year and half. And so, I do have a background, I know what reservation life is. I use to be one of those with no direction—I drank, I did drugs. I use to do a lot of things a lot of people do on the reservations. I was fortunate enough to have the strength to walk away and clean myself up…thanks to my wife, who was there to give me good moral support, who I have been married to for fifteen years now. It’s why I’m so dedicated and so strong into this because I understand the victims who are getting attacked and getting hurt. Because I used to do that, I use to hurt people, not only myself but others too. So, I’m just flipping the page around and giving back what I took away.
LFS: Who contacted you initially about the problem in Montana?
RH: Chauncey Whitright was contacted by the community, people who are disgruntled with the problems in their neighborhoods. So Chauncey went ahead and took the extra step and made the right phone call. He contacted Curtis Sliwa, and Curtis Sliwa called him right back, and said, Hey, I’m sending an individual over, to come out and talk with you people, educate you people about the Guardian Angels, what we do, and what type of tools and education we can offer the community to get back their streets.
LFS: Are you aware of how many gangs are currently active on the Fort Peck Reservation?
RH: Montana’s known for twenty known gangs for sure. Wolf Point is known for nine for sure. It may be more than that. Chauncey Whitright has been kind enough to drive me around the neighborhoods in Wolf Point and Poplar and I have been taking pictures of all of the actual taggings just to give me an idea of the outside gangs, and when I say outside gangs, I mean, gangs from Chicago, Los Angeles and even a few from New York that are moving into Montana, and are setting up homes here. They are here, and it’s just going to get bigger if somebody doesn’t do something about it. And with the Canadian Border so close, you know there’s a lot of drug trading going on. Now, when these gangs get as big as they are, other known gangs tend to move in, and that’s when the gang wars start. Now, the people who get caught in between the two gangs end up getting killed. And people don’t understand, but I’ve been around it, I’ve done my research, I know how it works. Now, these known outside gangs know who the Guardian Angels are, we grew up with them just like they grew up back in the late seventies. And that’s when they pretty much all started back in late seventies in Chicago. I mean, you’ve got the Latin Kings, you’ve got the Vice Lords. I’ve also heard that the MS 13 is moving in, now they’re known as the worst gang ever out there, and they have no qualms about killing you before they even look at you. So, if somebody doesn’t do something now about it, you could possibly see Wolf Point just turn into a big gang territory. There’s a reason why they are around. It’s because they are profiting off of, not only our young people, but they are also profiting off of the drug trades, and as long as they can continue making money, they are going to continue buying guns, which in turn means people are going to get killed. And it’s always the innocent that gets hurt before the other gang members they are shooting at, because, I’m sorry, but they are poor shots.
LFS: So, you provide training.
RH: Yeah, we actually have a manual that is about that thick, about four or five inches or more. Everything that is in this manual has been tried, corrected and perfected over the last twenty years, so we can use them on the streets, so that we can keep ourselves safe. I say keep ourselves safe because we do not carry guns, we do not carry tasers, we do not wear life vests—the only thing that saves us is the red beret, and the uniforms we wear. We carry flashlights, we carry protective gloves, some of us carry protective masks, especially with the bad blood, with AIDS…and the diseases that are out there, and the people getting stabbed and stuff. I mean, people may end up in a gang war or whatever, and get stabbed or shot. Guess what, they’re left for dead while the other ones split and take off. Do we just go ahead and kick dirt and leave them in the gutter? No, we move in and apply first aid to them. So at least they have a chance to get to the hospital and maybe live.
We try to help people that have been knocked down and hurt… everything we do is [about] safety. We not only have the proper physical training in the martial arts, we also provide, we have our own manual of physical training. We also teach conflict resolution. We don’t argue with people, we don’t allow people to argue with us. I’m sorry, if you’re a criminal, that’s all there is to it, we are not going to argue with you. If you want to break the law, you are going to go to jail. We also work with the local law enforcement, and learn. We also teach state statutes, and whatever the tribal laws may be. So when we come in, we get a group of people together. I’ll be here for like five months of training, actual extensive, hard, physical training—if anybody wants to break my rules, they will either have to be put on probation…or otherwise I will have them removed.
LFS: So, with all of this organ-ized crime, they’ve got a hierarchy. What is your infrastructure like, how does that work?
RH: I am the Chapter Leader of my chapter in Minneapolis. I train and teach. We also have an assistant Chapter Leader. So when we’re on patrol, I’ll be in front of the patrol. My assistant patrol leader will be in the back of the patrol. So if anything ever did happen to me running a patrol, so let’s say I got shot, or I got stabbed, the assistant chapter leader moves up and takes over.
Umm, people also have the misunderstanding that we go out and just jump people for the heck of it. No, we don’t. We only deal with the actual situation that’s at hand. We don’t start anything, we don’t push anything. We don’t force anything to happen. Because that’s where you get that phrase that people like to put over our heads of being a vigilante. A vigilante, the definition of a vigilante is a judge, jury, and executioner. We don’t judge people, we are an organized volunteer group, we are not a gang, we are not a cult, we are not vigilantes. I deal with what I know of in the community, by speaking with the local law enforcement, the local crime prevention specialist, the community leaders that are in our community. Now if we have a high crime area, that’s where I go, I go where people don’t want to go, I go to places people don’t even want to talk about because it’s not good. That’s how we get called into communities—when things get too bad. So, the community calls us and then we come in, and then we get the community the proper tools to do what we do.
LFS: You would come in as the leader of the Minneapolis Chapter?
RH: Actually, I’ll be coming in as a Guardian Angel representative for Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels back in 1979 when it was started.
LFS: You would come in and train your own chapter leader?
RH: Actually, I will be having everybody fill out an application first.
LFS: So, once you accept applicants, at that point you...?
RH: At that point we start physical training. I mean, our main basis is that we do a lot of walking. We have a lot of other parts of being a Guardian Angel, the fund raising, talking to community leaders to see what their concerns are and what they would like to see out of us. We also have people that would go around and save animals. There’s also a lot of people that don’t take care of their animals. And then I also have people that will talk with the local organizations that deal with either the homeless or maybe the school systems, teaching the kids [about] anti-bullying situations, teaching cyber angels information. That’s another part of what we do, once I get done with the physical training and at the same time we also give them the mental training, the conflict resolution training. The state laws, teach them the state laws that are involved, what we can do, what we cannot do. I mean, we are not out there just to arrest people.
LFS: The citizen’s arrest.
RH: Yes, that’s the law that we would follow. I’m not saying everybody should go out there and do it, but at the same time, you can’t just walk by somebody getting victimized if you feel that you can handle the situation safely. A citizen’s arrest doesn’t necessarily mean they actually have to do a physical hold on somebody. You can actually just stand back and keep an eye on a situation and dial 911 and get the officer to show up. And then you can press charges.…What happens in the court system, that has nothing to do with us.
LFS: So, the Guardian Angels, you’re not looking for prosecutions.
RH: Nope, like I said, we’re here to take back our streets, our sidewalks, our neighborhoods. That’s all we deal with. If you want to be smoking crack on my sidewalk when I’m walking up on you, I will arrest you for that. If I see you beating up somebody on my sidewalk, or my street, or my alley, I will arrest you for that.
LFS: Do you have support from the Fort Peck Tribe?
LFS: Do you have support from the Wolf Point Community?
RH: And Poplar.
LFS: Who else is working with you at this point in time?
RH: The Chief of Police. The tribal police. The Public Safety Director. The Crime Control Specialist.
LFS: These gangs that are here, that are hybrid gangs, and some of these imported gangs like the Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings—what is your solution, what do you see them doing, how do they transition out of gang life?
RH: You know, a lot of these kids, they had low self esteem, they got preyed upon, they got pulled into these gangs without actually realizing what it’s about. But these gangs they are, “Okay, we’ll make sure that you got food in your stomach…some money in your pocket.” You know, anything that will make them feel good. But at the same time the turn around is that you got to go out and shoot somebody, or you got to out and stab somebody, or you got to go out and burn someone’s house down, or got to go out and sell some drugs so you can continue filling your pockets.
Once you’re in, they always say you’re in for life, or they’ll hunt you down and kill you, and that’s not necessarily true. I run into a lot of kids who say, “Is there any way you can get me out of this?” We will give you an avenue out, we will find you the protection you need until they leave you alone. And like I said a lot of these gangs know us from years ago, especially the main gangs, your Gangster Disciples, your Bloods, your Crips. They know who we are, they also know that we will come in numbers to deal with whatever numbers you have. All I have to do is make a phone call. Like I said, if I had a very serious situation and all of a sudden all of these gangs got together and decided they wanted to make a hit out on us or whatever. I make a phone call to Mr. Sliwa, within minutes, I can have a plane full of Guardian Angels here. And I’m sorry, we’ll just push you out. We’ll go ahead and arrest you if we get a hold of you, or we will just move you on out. And then also we are working tight, working with the local law enforcement. They know we will abide by the laws and we also know they will be there to deal with the situation at hand. We work together, we work in numbers and that’s what keeps us safe. And like I said, these local, these gangs that are coming in from Chicago, from Los Angeles, they know who we are, they see our beret, they turn around and go the other way. Like I stated to the Tribal Council member this morning: If I see a group of members, or if I see a group of guys standing on a corner, I can just stand halfway up the block from them. All it takes is [for] them to see us, then they will say, “Guardian Angels,” and they will just disperse like flies. I see it happen all of the time. So I disrupted whatever they were planning to do…doing to somebody else in that neighborhood. They’re no longer selling drugs on that corner, because it’s hard to sell drugs in front of a Guardian Angel, because you’re going to get arrested. So what does that do when the drug dealers can’t make money, and their runners aren’t making the money for them, because they are either getting arrested or they are getting pushed out of the neighborhood? The main members are getting upset with that, they’re not making the money they are supposed to be making out of these people. So all of a sudden now they are saying, “Alright, pull up your roots, time to move on, time to move somewhere else.” So then they go find another area they can prey on for a while. I mean, who would have thought—gangs in Montana? Did anybody think there would be gangs moving up into Montana. Especially little towns like Wolf Point or little towns like Poplar, or other areas. Nobody would have ever thought of working with the reservation. But now the gangs do, but how can the gangs move in and nobody says anything?
LFS: Well, one of the things that I was explaining before [regarding jurisdiction of tribal, state, and federal justice systems] was that you could kill somebody and only get one year. So it’s very lax.
RH: I understand where you are coming with on that. Like I said, we just deal with the problems on the street. Now whatever the justice system does, that’s up to the justice system. I don’t write the laws, I don’t enforce them… I’m off making sure that the people living in the communi-ties…don’t have to worry about somebody driving by and shooting at them. I’m also the individual that’s out there if somebody falls and skins their knee, I’m going to be there to put a band aid on it for you. I’m also the individual who if there is a homeless [person] out there, and he’s got nowhere to go, we find ways to keep these people warm…We also work with churches. Like I said before too, we go into the schools, we teach anti-bullying to children. We teach them what to do, what not to do. …Like I said, we are not just about walking the streets and arresting people. We work with people, we help people. So, it’s all about heart, and that’s all there is to it.
LFS: So, the next step would be?
RH: I get on the phone with Mr. Curtis Sliwa.
LFS: You’ll be coming back?
RH: I’ll probably be back here with Mr. Sliwa himself.
Lance Elliot Four Star is an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine Tribe, a freelance writer, Chairman of the Assiniboine Council, a United States Army Veteran, and a Wolf Point community member.
Ronald Halling can be reached at (612) 670-2739 or by email: [email protected]