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Superheroes Inc. – Does Seattle need Phoenix Jones and his superhero team?

Courtesy of Phoenix Jones

The superhero phenomenon in Seattle led by Phoenix Jones is becoming a staple of nightlife in some of the violent and crime-ridden parts of the city.

It’s also turning into something like an official organization with dues paying members, health insurance and company cars. And, the team’s self-shot street videos continue to raise questions about the superheroes’ presence in the city …

The business side of superhero life

Seattle’s superhero team (not sure what else to call them) has 15 masked people in protective costumes roaming the streets with another five in plain clothes stretched over bulletproof vests spotting crime and calling it in. The team also has two people driving team members from scene to scene in company cars.

They all pay, according to team leader Ben Fodor … er Phoenix Jones, $55 a month in dues to cover health insurance, gasoline and other team expenses.

Yes, they have a company health insurance plan.

“I feel like it would be inappropriate of me to take people’s loved ones out into the street and say, ‘Hey, I want these guys to come to protect me, come out here on the street but I’m not going to protect them if something happens,’ ” said Jones about the insurance policy.
“We picked a pretty obscure name so that no one would be able to find out who the members of our teams are, and we got insurance through that,” Jones explained, adding that the team also holds fundraisers to cover expenses.

He says the crew ranges from ex-military and ex-police to currently active members of the military and police officers (though not from Washington). Several members are trained emergency medical technicians. All of whom have made up their own street “uniforms.”

“I’m actually the least trained, military-wise, guy on our team, and we have a lawyer who walks out there with us while we’re on patrol,” he said.

About becoming a fixture in Seattle’s nightlife and media, Jones said, “You know, I have been having the hardest time grasping that, because when it started off I was just a weird guy in a costume.”

Recent notoriety

This week, a video of Phoenix Jones duking it out on a Seattle street while police officers stood by went viral and the city once again took notice of its masked avengers.

Video: Caution LOTS OF STRONG LANGUAGE and violence:

So far it’s been watched on YouTube more than 397,000 times with 2,964 likes and 143 dislikes. (Jones says the video has been watched many more times because it’s been posted on sites other than YouTube.)

“It’s a weird thing, because I’ve spent my entire superhero career trying to avoid that video,” Jones said.

He explained that the fight was legal because of “mutual combat” language in the city code. He said the person in the orange shirt threatened to follow him home and that was that.

“There’s not going to be any following me to my house where my kids live, no thank you.”

Radio shows carried interviews, websites published the video with the Seattle Police Department’s response:

“ … ultimately the officers did what they could with their presence to encourage people to walk away, and unfortunately that didn't happen," SPD Sgt. Sean Whitcomb told the Seattle Weekly. Whitcomb confirmed the two had a legal right to fight.
"I'm sure the officers could have physically stopped that fight from happening, but it would have resulted in a force response, then you and I would be talking about why SPD was using force to stop the fight," Whitcomb told the Weekly.
While the video identifies the recipient of Jones' blows as an "assault suspect," Whitcomb told the Weekly that's not the case – police were responding to a disturbance call – and that SPD will not investigate the incident any further.

Jones said of the fight: “It was the appropriate time in my career as a superhero to teach a couple of lessons.”

Interviews with Phoenix Jones

Below are edited (for length) excerpts from two interviews with Phoenix Jones:

  • About that street fight?

PJ: People have to understand that I am a trained fighter first and a nerd second and not the other way around and I think people get confused.

  • How big can the team get?

PJ: You know, it can’t get much bigger because it would be harder to control. Right now we have a very nice mix of respect and trust in each other … We’re really good at running as a democracy, but in that way it is a democracy where when it comes to how we deal with combat, I’m the final say in that. So, it’s a democracy in that we’ll vote on it before but when it comes to the street, I’m the final say.

Video: “On November 26, 2011 a man was stabbed in Belltown. Phoenix Jones and crew chased the suspect for approximately 8 blocks. They were able to subdue him until the police arrived.”

  • How does someone join?

PJ: … when I come across the right guy, it’s really like just the right guy.

Like someone sent me an email today … and we’re not accepting applicants right now … the guy said hey you know I’m an ex-Marine, I’m a good guy blah blah blah. For my birthday… I’m going to go downtown and with a bunch of my Marine Corps buddies, we’re going to hand out a bunch of food to the homeless and we’d love you to come join us …

And that’s the kind of guy where I’ll call back and I’ll go let’s go to your birthday party. And, I’ll bring my team to his birthday and then we’ll at the end of the birthday sit there and go, “Okay, what do we think of this guy – was this legitimate or did he do this because he wanted to meet us?” … And if we sit there and we all go, “This is a genuine guy,” we’ll foot the background check and we’ll start …

  • Why a superhero costume?

Credit The Associated Press
The Associated Press
Ben Fodor,

PJ: … normally when people decide to become a superhero they are sort of social outcasts … misfits who are into comic books and decided that’s what they were going to do.

I’m the first guy that came along that was, you know, captain of the football team, jock, professional fighter, legitimate guy that just decided this is what I want to do … and this is the suit I’m gonna use to make sure that the cops can’t say that they didn’t know who I was or shoot me on accident. If I could do this without the suit, originally I would have. Being a superhero was never the goal, stopping crime was the goal.

Originally I didn’t have a suit. Originally I wore no shirt, a fedora hat to cover my hair so people wouldn’t recognize me on the street, and a little mask on my face and a pair of jeans. Then I got stabbed … (I) put a bullet proof vest on … then I got a radio to communicate with my car, and after that the police kept stopping me all the time, being like: ‘Yo, you can’t run around in a mask, no shirt, and with a bullet proof vest on – it just doesn’t work.’ So I said, ‘Well, what would work?’ And they said, ‘Well, I don’t know, why don’t you dress up in a costume.’

… the costume evolved and before you know it I’m dressed like a superhero, but it worked, because when I show up people go: ‘Oh! That’s that guy! I know what superhero’s stand for.’ That’s an iconography and image that so many mass media production companies have spent so much time investing in this image, that I just basically picked up where they left off.

  • Aren’t you just after publicity?

PJ: It is hard to explain that. When you come into an argument with someone that says, Well, publicity is driving you and that you’re going to take more risks to get more coverage, I think it’s sort of the reverse. I think that people do more digging to get more coverage when you become famous. … So I don’t think that’s a valid argument. I have been in the same amount of danger since I started … (and) the area that I am in is the same area that I have been in since the beginning.

  • Does it matter if people think you’re just crazy?

PJ: I make people pick sides. If you think that I am crazy, that’s cool, but guaranteed you are going to run into someone who doesn’t think that I am crazy and you are going to have to defend that stance.

So what you're defense has to come down to (is): I believe in the city. I believe in the police, and I believe that people like Phoenix Jones just aren’t necessary. And anyone with any sense knows that right now the budget doesn’t allow for the police to be everywhere, so your argument just kind of phases out.

Video: “From New York to San Diego and everywhere in between, "Superheroes" is the definitive look in to the ever-growing Real Life Superhero community.”