On a recent visit to Washington, members of the Guardian Angels, a controversial crime-fighting group best known for making citizen's arrest on subway trains in New York City, found themselves ambushed by a rival gang. Three members of the Young Dillingers, a local gang of good guys, greeted the Angels' 10-member delegation with a stern warning that the District's streets belong to them.
Edriss "Godfather" Pannell, leader of the Young Dillingers, a street gang whose two dozen members were once widely known to D.C. teen-agers for their flamboyant fisticuffs, said, "The Guardian Angels are stepping on our turf. D.C. is our (TABLE) crime for almost a year. They can't just come in and take the support that we're still trying to get for ourselves. They don't even know their way around D.C." The Dillingers met the Angels on the steps of the U.S. Capitol last week while the visiting gang was in town to recruit new members and testify before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on juvenile crime. (COLUMN)Pannell, 24, said he told the Angels' East Coast coordinator, Tony Lighty, 25, that "the Young Dillingers were here first." The Dillingers have been patroling tough streets and fighting crime in the Shaw area for six months. Most of the Dillingers are longtime residents of the community.(COLUMN)Lightly, who directs the Angels' Philadelphia chapter, said he expects to get the D.C. chapter off the ground in the next few weeks. (COLUMN)Lighty said, "The Young Dillingers came up to me and we had a few words. 'Godfather' said, 'Who are the Guardian Angels and why are you here recruiting? We don't need you.' He was with his buddies, 'War Lord' (Jamal Pannell, 21) and 'Capone' (Oscar Thompson, 24) and they had a very aggressive attitude. One of them called me a liar to my face. He asked me if I had ever heard of the Young Dillingers and I told him, 'No.' He called me a liar. "But, we talked for a while and we came to a mutual agreement that we didn't have enough time to have a heavy conversation and that Angels weren't there for any type of gang war. They said they were more or less into the same thing we were into -- safety patrol." (COLUMN)Lightly said that though about 100 people from the D.C. area filled out applications to join the Angels, the Dillingers need not worry about the Angels taking "their so-called turf from them." His group plans first to establish a chapter in Baltimore where the "people and the politicians received us with open arms." The Angels were not invited by D.C. city officials to open a chapter here, he said. (COLUMN)Before the Dillingers gang made its turnabout in February, it was not interested in protecting people from crime. According to Pannell, all the gang members had criminal or juvenile police records, with most charges being for robbery, burglary and receiving stolen property. All of them either dropped out or were thrown out of high school for fighting, Pannell said. But a few have earned GEDs. (COLUMN)"We were known as bad-ass hard asses who could fight," said Jamal "War Lord" Pannell, "Godfather's" younger brother. "We used to go to all the go-gos (the weekend "funk concerts" held around the Washington metropolitan area), playing it cool. We used to get high all the time. And we used to get into fights all the time because dudes from other parts of the city thought they were badder than us. They wanted to show everybody that they could whip us. But we never lost a fight. Every weekend for two years and we never lost a fight." However, at least three members were stabbed in fights and one was shot in the back, "War Lord" Pannell said. The gang gained such notoriety that two local funk bands, Rare Essence and the Peacemakers, started singing songs about them. (COLUMN)After a while, "we got into so many fights that they (security police) started barring us from the gogos," said Philip "Hill Billy" Veney, a lanky 21-year-old gang member. (COLUMN)The gang, which at that time wore green hospital scrub uniforms with the name of the group on the back, was easily visible in a crowd. (COLUMN)They were barred from the concerts for about two months, "Godfather" Pannell said. Then, some of the band members used their clout to get the gang admitted to two special concerts held during the last weekend in February at the Club LaBaron in Palmer Park, Md. "The club was going to be shut down and the bands wanted us to be there to help party in on out." Near midnight on Friday, a crowd of about 2,000 youngsters was dancing to the loud, live music, "Godfather" Pannell said. Suddenly, "this guy started launching out on some drugs and he pulled out a gun and started shooting up in the air and at the ground. (COLUMN)"The security guards drew their guns and everybody else ran. Then the guy grabbed somebody by the neck with one arm and told the guards to get back. He was pointing his gun." (COLUMN)Pannell hadn't run. He stood a few yards from the gunman and the hostage. "I waited for a few seconds and just went up to him and looked at him. I said, 'Hey, what're you doing with that gun, man. Why don't you put that gun down, man.'" (COLUMN)While he talked to the young man, Pannell said he looked at him dead in the eyes and eased forward, shifting from side to side and ducking beneath the aim of the gun. He got within a couple of feet, he said; then "I tried to knock the gun out of his hand." He swung an open palm at the gunman's outstretched arm, but missed as the gunman pivoted away, swinging the frightened hostage with him. (COLUMN)"Then, I punched the dude in the side and jumped on top of him. The security guards ran over and pulled me off him and put the handcuffs on him and that was it." (COLUMN)Pannell's brother "War Lord" ran to him and patted him on the back. "You're a crazy motherof-----," his brother said. (COLUMN)"The next day (Saturday night) we went back to the club and the P.G. (Prince George's County police) pulled us aside and told the people at the door to let us in free," "Godfather" Pannel said. "Then the security guards asked us to help control the crowd. That's when we knew we could be greater by being constructive than we could be by tearing up stuff and fighting all the time. The people respected us." One of the gang's advisers, Officer Ronald Hampton from the Third District of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, said, "These guys can deter crime by just walking the streets. We've noticed an overall decrease in street crime since they started patroling the area near the Giant Food store (8th and P streets NW). The Young Dillingers are doing something that's been needed in the community for a long time and I'm glad to see them doing it on their own." (COLUMN)The Dillingers don't make any citizen's arrests and they do not undergo any training, according to Hampton. Their main activities consist of escorting the elderly to and from Giant, breaking up fights, intervening in assaults, keeping an eye on suspicous-looking characters on the streets and reporting crime to the police. Several Shaw residents said the members appear to be undisciplined in that they are not seen patroling the streets regularly. Others said the Dillingers have made Shaw a safer place to live. (COLUMN)Hampton said, "They need to be more organized.They're not as regimented as the Guardian Angels, but they're coming along okay."(END TABLE) CAPTION: (TABLE) Picture, Philip "Hill Billy" Veney and Jamal "War Lord" Pannell. By Paul D. Bernstein for The Washington Post(END TABLE)