Crazy? Or a Hero?
By Jennifer Kuglin Published: Jun 15, 2011 at 9:17 PM PDT
Phoenix Jones is a superhero. He has a day job but wears a costume underneath his street clothes in case he encounters crime. He carries a “net gun” and has team of crime fighters.
But this isn’t the plot from a Hollywood movie. There are no special effects. This is real-life and Phoenix patrols Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood every week- stopping fights, feeding the homeless and helping folks who have run out of gas.
Unlike most movie superheroes, Phoenix doesn’t have any super powers and he doesn’t need them. He is made of flesh and blood and has gotten hurt. He deals with real criminals and puts his life in danger nightly.
“Phoenix, some people might ask if you’re crazy. Are you crazy?” I asked during a recent phone interview.
“Have you ever seen something that you thought was wrong or not fair? That you wanted to change? And then you just thought about it for days or weeks?” He said.
“Of course.” I answered.
“Well I haven’t. I don’t stand by and watch things happen that are wrong. When I see it I fix it. Does that make me crazy?”
RAIN CITY SUPERHERO MOVEMENT
Phoenix is a part of the Rain City Superhero movement, a group of superheroes that patrols the streets of Seattle.
So is vigilante justice acceptable? Are the superheroes actually helping police fight crime?
Phoenix says police were extremely wary at first, but now accept his help. He says he calls them ahead of time to tell them which neighborhood he’ll be patrolling. He fills out police reports and gives witness testimony.
“Police have been super helpful. I’ll walk down the streets and they’ll get their loudspeaker out and say, ‘Hey, Phoenix! How are you doing?’ They’ll come over and shake my hand. They know that I’m for real.”
A police bulletin was sent to Seattle officers on Wednesday about the group.
Seattle police say there is nothing illegal about dressing up as a superhero, but it is dangerous and they do not encourage it.
They would rather the self-proclaimed superheroes acted as witnesses instead of inserting themselves into fights.
Police also say it can be a drain on resources when they have to field 911 calls about people afraid of “masked men.”
BECOMING A SUPERHERO
Phoenix Jones says he wanted to become a superhero after a few incidents changed his mind about Seattle.
The first involved a friend getting assaulted outside a bar. The friend was left with permanent facial damage.
“And I thought, why didn’t someone help him? There were seventy people outside that bar and no one did anything,” he said.
The second incident was when someone broke into his car and his son was injured by the broken glass. His son had to spend the night in the ER and get stitches. He was later told that several people saw the break-in happen, but didn’t do anything.
Phoenix said, “Teenagers are running down the street, breaking into cars, and no one does anything? Where’s the personal accountability?”
Phoenix decided he would be different than all of those people who just stood by, not helping.
He began stepping into fights and helping people in need. But soon, he was getting recognized across town as ‘the guy who stops fights.’ He realized he was putting himself in danger.
“They’d recognize me and pick me out. I couldn’t do regular, every-day things anymore. So I started wearing the mask,” he said.
Phoenix says his costume helps him fight crime.
He said, “Most of the time when people see me, they kind-of laugh. The reaction I get is exactly what I wanted when I made the suit. I made it kind-of comical. Because if I can stop a fight by simply showing up in a cape and saying ‘Hey, Stop!’ like a comic-book character, and they actually stop, then the problem is solved. And no one got hurt.”
But not everyone laughs. Phoenix has been injured, but wouldn’t give details.
“I can’t really give specifics of my injuries because there are hospital records and it might be obvious who I am. I can say I’ve been cut several different times. And there was an incident in Tacoma with a gun. I’m not going to say how far it went, but it was bad. Remember, I deal with real criminals.”
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
It takes a lot of tools to be a good superhero, and Phoenix has a lot of them.
He carries a taser nightstick, a net gun and a grappling hook. (Though he says the net gun and grappling hook are not very effective. The grappling hook was unable to support his body.) But he does not carry a gun or knife.
He drives a regular car, but has a sophisticated communication system. A computer inside his car prints any emails sent to his superhero email address: email@example.com.
“Last night a guy emailed me saying he felt unsafe walking to his car. I was able to help him immediately. You know, if he called the police they wouldn’t be able to help him. But I am.”
Phoenix agreed to let KOMO News go out with him for a night of crime-fighting, but not before he got a bulletproof suit.
“After media attention, I might get shot at. I want to feel safe.”
We agreed to wait until he got the bulletproof suit and the story will air on KOMO-TV soon.
Phoenix Jones wants more superheroes to join the Rain City Superhero movement. But he says they must be qualified. And realistic.
Phoenix said, “I think people would find it’s far less romantic than it sounds. The hours aren’t so great. There’s no pay. That’s the reality.”
(GETTING AN INTERVIEW WITH A SUPERHERO)
There were no phone booths involved in my first communication with Phoenix Jones. Phoenix is a modern day superhero, so instead he uses Facebook.
His post on the KOMO News wall read:
“HELLO MY NAME IS PHOENIX. I’M A SUPERHERO. I FIGHT CRIME IN THE SEATTLE AREA. I HAVE HAD TROUBLE STOPPING ALL THE CRIME IN THE CITY CONSIDERING THERE ARE ONLY 5 MEMBERS OF MY CRIME FIGHTING TEAM.”
We get a lot of tips that don’t pan out, and I thought this was probably one of them. But his profile picture showed a man with a mask, cape and tights standing next to a Seattle police officer.
I was intrigued.
I looked at his Facebook page where all of his posts were about fighting crime. There were a lot of dark and fuzzy pictures of him in various poses around the city donning that same mask, cape and tights.
So I sent him an email saying I’d be interested to find out more about his superhero abilities. We traded emails back and forth and I learned that he was very serious about his job, that he’d been injured and gotten involved in stopping knife fights.
I wanted to talk to him by phone, but he wouldn’t give me his phone number.
“You’re a journalist. You’d find a way to trace me,” he said.
So we agreed to talk on a secret phone line where I had to punch in a secret code. After talking to him I realized this was a real story about a real guy doing really strange and amazing things.