Most of us read superhero stories to get away from the drama of real life and forget about reality. Superhero books to us are simply stories we can delve into that remove us from the daily problems we face and allow us to enter into a world of fantasy. For most, that's where it ends; crime fighting is simply fantasy and fiction and left up to the train professionals.
For some, however, fighting crime as a masked vigilante is an everyday reality. You may have heard of real life superheroes; pocket groups of costumed heroes which are (for the most part) unrelated to one another and are scattered throughout different cities across the United States. In their spare time, they don a mask, cape and cowl and take to the streets fighting daily injustices by defending those they see as being "innocent civilians." But when did the lines of fiction and reality blur for these individuals, and what compels them to take matters into their own hands? More importantly though, are their actions really beneficial to our society? Are they really "keeping the peace"?== TEASER ==
It's been a bad week overall for real life costumed vigilantes as two costumed heroes came under fire for two unrelated crimes; something that may be interpreted as being a signal that law enforcement may start taking these costumed real life heroes a bit more seriously by removing their power. Earlier this week police arrested self proclaimed superhero "Phoenix Jones" when he attempted to defend what he believed to be a woman who came under attack outside of a Seattle, Washington nightclub. Later that evening Jones was arrested for assault when he used pepper spray on a group of club goers. "Jones' " real identity has since been revealed and he's officially been unmasked.
The above video initially shown on MSNBC was taken by one of Jones' friends who took footage of the masked hero in action to demonstrate just how much of an impact Jones's crime fighting has on crime. However, based on the fact that one of the women proceeds to hit Jones with her shoe after he sprayed her with pepper spray, you have to wonder whether or not he's providing an actual service to the community, or if he's only aiding in disturbing the peace. Additionally, now that he's been unmasked, he could potentially come under more fire for having taken matters into his own hands.
In Michigan this past May, Mark Wayne Williams was also arrested by law enforcement officials in Petoskey, Michigan after being found hanging on the side of a building. Police charged Williams with several counts of carrying concealed weapons, a gas injecting weapon and another for causing domestic disturbance. This week, the "Petoskey Batman" as he is referred to on his Facebook fan page was given six months probation where he was told by a judge that he would have to hang up his tights, at least for the time being.
These are only some of the instances where "real life heroes" have taken to the streets in order to try to do society some good. However, you have to wonder whether or not they are, in the process, hurting themselves, jeopardizing their own lives as well as placing the people around them in more danger than they are helping a situation.
In a recent HBO documentary, director Michael Barnett followed a group of costumed vigilantes based in New York City in order to understand why they do what they do as well as to see whether or not their actions actually serve to benefit society. His findings indicated that the individuals who don costumes and take to the streets primarily feel that the "NYPD [law enforcement in general]...is completely unreliable." When promoting the film, Barnett appeared on 'The Dylan Ratigan Show' to discuss the documentary and explain what these indiciduals have in common with one another.
"I hate to make generalizations about the community, but ultimately we found that by and large most of these people do this because it stems from some tragedy or trauma that happened in their lives. Once they start to over compensate for that tragedy in becoming a real life superhero they become addicted...to becoming a real life superhero."
Clearly, these heroes seem to have a commonality when it comes to the "why they do what they do." Most feel that they have endured personal experiences where law enforcement failed them, and are therefore prompted to take things into their own hands. But just because we have some folks in costume running around doesn't mean that the crime rates are on a decline, right? So are they really helping the situation? Should they continue to fight crime as costumed heroes, or are they just endangering themselves?