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Brooklyn's Guardians of the Night Celebrate a Year of Safe Streets

By Sonja Sharp | September 13, 2012 11:49am

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — He might not look like Bruce Wayne, but bike-messenger turned guardian-of-the-night Jay Ruiz likes to think of himself as Gotham's humble hero.

"I'm Batman doing this," Ruiz, 47, said of his organization Brooklyn Bike Patrol, a local volunteer safety service offering walks home for women — nearly 120 so far, most of them repeat customers — that will celebrate its one year anniversary with a ride through brownstone Brooklyn this Friday. "I won't leave nobody abandoned."

It was a year ago that Ruiz first answered the call to justice, as clear to him then as a signal in the sky, though the signal, in his case, was a news report on TV.

Brooklyn residents were protesting a string of sex attacks in Park Slope and Sunset Park. The station showed a video of a woman being brutalized on a quiet residential block, her bone-chilling cries for help unheeded, her face a mask of terror as she tried and failed to fend off her attacker. 

"I can still hear that scream," Ruiz said. "That's what really motivated me — that's what changed my life."

Untold hours of his childhood had been spent in front of the TV in his family's Prospect Heights apartment. Sitting in front of the TV with his wife that night, Ruiz said his mind rushed back to Bruce Wayne.

"When I was a little kid, me and my little brothers, unless it was baseball we weren’t allowed to go outside, because my parents were strict. We used to watch  a lot of Batman," Ruiz said, flashing a tattoo of the bat signal on his chest.

"He's a billionaire who does his thing and doesn't expect anything in return.  I love Batman because he doesn’t have super powers — he’s out there risking his life."

And so, armed with his conviction and a heavy bike chain, Ruiz started canvassing community boards and precinct meetings, posting flyers with his phone number at train stations along the F line. For months, he labored alone, vowing to answer every call no matter how tired it left him the next morning. He solicited volunteers on local blogs, but got no reply.

"I was taking calls at 2:30 in the morning and I was going to work at 8," Ruiz said. "One day, I said, you know what God, if you want me to do this by myself, I’m going to do this by myself."

That was the day he met Robin — aka Rob Blatt, 30, of Gowanus.

Not long after picking up his first ally, other volunteers began trickling in, along with support from local churches and politicians. State Sen. Eric Adams donated winter jackets. Local bike shops offered volunteers free repair work. A woman from Memphis, Tenn. got them hats.

Fast forward a few months and a typical weekend for Ruiz means fielding calls from dozens of women — and the occasional man — looking for an walk home from as far afield as Bushwick and Borough Park. Leaning on his experience as a dispatcher for Manhattan's Quik Trak bike messenger service, he routes one of 13 heavily-vetted volunteers to the pickup point.

They take all kinds: a young man in a cumbersome Halloween costume. A night nurse on her way to the hospital to start a shift. A young woman in Clinton Hill who told Ruiz she would have left New York City if not for his service. 

"Sometimes it’s only three or four blocks, sometimes its ten blocks, but it doesn’t matter," he said. "We don’t accept tips or donations, but those little thank-yous mean the world."