Saturday, May 4, 2013

Don't Be That Guy: SPD Advisor Wants Crack Down on Heroes

...Making The Streets Safe For Brawling.

You know, I have a pretty skewed impression of Seattle. On the one hand, Frasier Crane lived there and he sure made it sound like a swank place for muckety mucks and snobs to live.

On the other hand, they have stuff like this. Last year on May 1st, a gang known as the Black Bloc used a day slated for peaceful demonstration and activism to tear up the city, vandalizing a courthouse on the way. Apparently, the gang came out in uniform (dressed in black with bandanas over their faces), and they attacked people on the street, blocked city traffic, and damaged buildings as they went through the city.

And guess who was there?

Phoenix Jones and the Rain City Superheroes, a group of real-life costumed heroes who patrol Seattle to crack down on drugs, brawling, and petty crime. The RCS got into the thick of it, and according to them they were defending the courthouse specifically while the police were outmaneuvered by the cleverly dubbed gang.
Picture from

Sounds a little bit The Avengers meets Kick-Ass, doesn't it? Well, that's probably because Phoenix Jones is Kick-Ass in at least a few ways. I've had part of this article fermenting for well over a year--since October 2011--when, as a temperamental snub against costumed heroes, Phoenix Jones got publicly outed by the justice system.

Yeah, it happened. In Seattle, baby.

You see, Phoenix Jones describes himself as a concerned father who got tired of the crime on the streets of Seattle when a car break-in got his child showered with glass. Now, that'd make any of us mad, afraid, or cowed in spirit, but Phoenix Jones went another way by donning a black and gold protective bodysuit and patrolling the streets at night looking for crime. He's found it. Found it in spades. When confronted by a criminal act, he calls the authorities (which is sadly more than most do) and then steps in to do whatever he can (badassfully). He soon started a group--the Rain City Superheroes--and they watched others backs, supported each other, and helped to coordinate their efforts beyond a one-block at a time patrol.

Even before October 2011, I'd heard of this small-time West Coast crusader. Local journalists had done walk-alongs with him, and the media even reunited him with a man whose car Phoenix had saved from having his car stolen. They also highlighted that he has a base of operations at the back of a local comic book store.

This all happened, folks. This does happen.

"...he calls the authorities (which is sadly more than most do) and then steps in to do whatever he can (badassfully)."

In October 2011, Phoenix Jones was arrested for assault after he pepper sprayed a group of people brawling in the street. No other arrests were reported at the time, just Phoenix. The group of a handful of people fighting walked away, though their anecdotal testimony that they were just fooling around was quoted by the police as the official version of events. As it turned out, the police weren't really interested in proceeding with the assault charge, as nothing was ever officially filed. That didn't stop them from trumping up a public hearing where they forced him to reveal his name and face. (Out of respect for what he does and his initial decision to be anonymous, I'll use his nomme de guerre instead of his given name.) Probably the worst part of this whole ordeal is that every time Phoenix Jones has received media attention--positive or negative--since that hearing, the coverage always includes his real name, as though trying to flush him out of his crime-fighting hobby. I've even read articles where they use his middle name, as though trying to make antagonizing him as easy and transparent as possible.

Skip ahead to last year May 1st, and the description with which I began this article. Phoenix Jones and his associated Rain City Superheroes found themselves once again in the newspapers, once more making the city of Seattle look like Frank Miller's Gotham City while they snag headlines alongside, or even ahead of, police officers. From that perspective, it's easy to see why Michael Hillman, a former deputy chief for the LAPD advising the Seattle Police Department, wouldn't like them. He advised that the Seattle Police find a way to restrict private citizens like Phoenix Jones going out and patrolling for illegal activity.

Yep, life imitating art even more. Surprisingly, though, the Seattle Police Department publicly disregarded that recommendation and said their only interest on May Day or any other day is stopping crime. Good for them, right? Phoenix even came out with some, perhaps, grandiose claims that he would be working with the police on a strategy for combating lawlessness on May Day.

He probably spoke too soon. This year the May Day events and the media's coverage of the Rain City Superheroes has been rather less than favorable. Articles I've read largely undulate between accusing Phoenix Jones and his crew of escalating situations or of being attention-seeking goons scuffling with clowns. And the SPD has been stressing that Phoenix Jones has never solved a crime. It seems that, rather than follow Hillman's suggestion to further infringe on Phoenix's consitutional rights, they decided to go the unquestionably legal route of shaming and decrying his proclaimed goal.

Geez, Seattle. J. Jonah Jameson much?

Now, I've got a bit more to say on the issue of Phoenix Jones specifically and the concept of "real life superheroes" in general, but I'll save that for another time. For now, though, I'll just say: Seattle, don't be that city.

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