Upfront: An Ordinary Solution to Erie's Extraordinary Crime
Although the FBI reports that violent crime has dropped nationwide and overall crime has decreased in Erie by a whopping 12 percent over the same period of time, the 50 or so shooting victims from last year report that violent crime has increased at least 100 percent in their world. So why has Erie not been able to realize the gains that cities across the nation have been able to realize?
The previous year was a busy one for crime in Erie. As I learned at the Parade of Horribles last December, more than four times the usual number of Erieites felt the searing kiss of molten metal in 2011. Although the FBI reports that violent crime has dropped nationwide and overall crime has decreased in Erie by a whopping 12 percent over the same period of time, the 50 or so shooting victims from last year report that violent crime has increased at least 100 percent in their world. So why has Erie not been able to realize the gains that cities across the nation have been able to realize?
I'll tell you why – it's because we don't have any superheroes prowling our streets.
I'm going to tell you a story. I'm going to tell you the story of a man – a man who is quite ordinary by day. He is a husband. A father. A brother. A teacher. A martial arts student.
One day, this ordinary man wakes up to find one of his car windows lying shattered, scattered and sparkling across the gritty, grungy, crime-ridden street. Most disgustingly, he learns that there are several witnesses to the act, all of whom failed to report on or intervene in it.
But then, in the twinkling of an eye, this ordinary man's ordinary world slips deeper into dystopia when his young son slips on the broken glass and cuts himself.
Perhaps all things, as dystopian as they may initially seem, hold a secret parthenogenesis; whoever – or whatever – perpetrated this heinous and nefarious scheme left a mask behind. A mask wrapped around a rock. A mask wrapped around the very rock used to smash the car window. That ordinary man grumbled to himself about crime, and about new car windows on a teacher's salary, and then stuffed the mask in his glove compartment and forgot about it.
Or maybe he didn't. Maybe he wondered about it; maybe he dreamt about it, about what it meant, about what he could do with it, or about what it could do with him. Maybe, just maybe, in time, he would know the answers to these questions. Maybe.
Some time later, that ordinary man witnesses a friend being violently accosted outside a tavern. Paralyzed by indecision for those terrifying seconds that seem like minutes, that ordinary man runs back to his car. Finally, that ordinary man had decided what to do with the mask; or had the mask finally decided what to do with that ordinary man?
Regardless, he put the mask on and returned to save his friend from a near-certain beat-down; however, on that day, that ordinary day, in that extra-ordinary moment, that ordinary man died. That ordinary man died, but only in a metaphorical sense, for, on that day, an unremarkable, every-day, ordinary Jones rose from the ashes of a society consumed by crime and indifference like a phoenix.
Now, he patrols those same gritty, grungy, crime-ridden streets and intercedes when he sees crimes being committed. He acts only as an ordinary citizen within the law to report on, or, when necessary, physically intervene in dangerous or criminal activity. Sure, he's had his nose broken; he's been stabbed, too. He's also been shot. To the overworked, underpaid police force, he is a mysterious, misguided vigilante. To the citizens of Seattle, he is Phoenix Jones: real life superhero.
Phoenix Jones ain't no joke. Perhaps it's because he's 6 feet of ripped MMA badassery. Perhaps it's because he wears a charcoal-black and gold full-body superhero costume, complete with a bulletproof vest resembling deeply-sculpted abs and a luchador-style face mask. Perhaps it's because he wields a formidable arsenal of non-lethal weapons, including a collapsible baton, pepper spray, a stun gun, and tear gas. Perhaps it's because he's fearless and quite possibly has a screw loose – I don't know. Whatever the reason, over the past few years Phoenix Jones has foiled countless crimes; most notably, he chased off a car thief, pepper-sprayed a man who was trying to steal a bus, and cornered a guy who got all stabby on some other guy until the police could arrive and apprehend the alleged attacker.
You could almost call Phoenix Jones a one-man crime-fighting phenomenon, but that would not be even slightly accurate; Phoenix Jones may be super, but he isn't the only real life superhero in Seattle; in fact, he leads a team of them. They're called the Rain City Superhero Movement, and there are at least 10 costumed superheroes – with names like Blue Sparrow, Buster Doe, Catastrophe, Gemini, Green Reaper, The Mantis, No Name, Penelope, Pitch Black, Red Dragon, Thorn, and Thunder 88 – who roam the streets addressing crime as it happens.
Aside from Seattle, there are a number of well-known real-life superheroes prowling the streets from sea to shining sea. Captain Prospect and Justice both call Washington, D.C. home, and claim affiliation with the Capitol City Super Squad; Ghost, Ha!, Insignis, Oni, and Silver Dragon hail from Salt Lake City and represent the Black Monday Society. Atlanta has the Crimson Fist, Orlando has Master Legend and his sidekick, Ace, and Queens has Oyster Man, which doesn't sound very crime-fighter-y at all.
Lest ye think the real-life superhero movement is solely an American pastime, I must inform you that Canada has Anujan Panchadcharam the Polarman, which does indeed sound crime fighter-y, and Britain has Black Arrow, Lionheart, The Statesman, Swift, Terrorvision, and Vague. Italy has Entomo the Insect-Man, which, if I was a criminal, is not a name that would really scare me all that much. But maybe he's one of those badass bugs that could, like, kill you or something. Anyhow, real-life superheroes seem to be fairly common.
So why doesn't Erie have one? Or three?
As I discovered, it may not be worth the price – you see, every day needs its night, as every yin needs its yang, and as every ordinary needs its extra-ordinary, and every real-life superhero needs his real-life supervillain – and Phoenix Jones has one. His name is Rex Velvet. And if there's one thing Erie doesn't have and doesn't need, it's a supervillian.
Has this story inspired you to fight crime/wear tights? Do you have a clever name or interesting concept for an Erie-centric superhero/supervillian? Email it to Cory at the address below, or, just suit up and start a' fightin' crime!
Cory Vaillancourt is a brilliant writer/complete hack and can be complimented/heckled at cVaillancourt@ErieReader.com.