If you were standing outside a bar and an enraged patron was getting ready to pound you, you might welcome the intervention of a costumed crusader who leaped to your defense with a bottle of pepper spray. Or you might wind up in the middle of something much worse.
That's the legitimate concern of many over the growing ranks of so-called "real-life superheroes" — private citizens who don masks, capes and even bullet-proof vests and patrol city streets looking for crime to fight.
The phenomenon generated news coverage recently when Benjamin Fodor, aka "Phoenix Jones," a 23-year-old Seattle man, was arrested for investigation of assault after he pepper-sprayed a crowd of people leaving a nightclub. Fodor said he was breaking up a fight — as he had successfully done a couple of hours earlier — but the people he sprayed told police there was no fight, just a group of friends having a good time.
Fodor, it turns out, is just one of possibly hundreds of costumed vigilantes, loosely organized in cities across the country. His group calls itself the Rain City Superhero Movement. Other groups include the New York Initiative in New York City and the Shadow Corp in Saginaw, Mich.
Their desire to be a force for good in a dangerous world is commendable, but they may be asking for more trouble than they can handle.
Edward Stinson, a Florida-based writer with a military background who advises "superheroes" on a website devoted to the cause, says he shares that concern. He told The Associated Press he envisions a nonprofit corporation that would raise funds and build community trust and alliances while providing tactical training in defusing volatile situations.
One such organization already exists, and has for three decades. The Guardian Angels started in 1979 in the Bronx as a band of vigilantes wearing red jackets and berets who patrolled high-crime neighborhoods making citizen arrests.
Initially viewed with alarm by police and city officials, the group eventually matured and grew into a worldwide organization that enlists community support.
It's possible the "superheroes" could follow a similar path, although it's difficult to see them being taken seriously if they persist in donning capes and masks.
The fact is, there are nonprofit organizations in every city that build community alliances and provide tactical training. They are called police departments.
Sometimes it's best to leave dangerous jobs to the professionals.