SEATTLE, WA — There is a sense of danger in the air. All we’re doing is walking around in the Pioneer Square area as bars let out for the night, but when you’re walking around with two real life superheroes looking for crime, it feels more dangerous somehow.
The two superheroes are Phoenix Jones and Black Knight. Their patrol is slowed by crowds of people wanting pictures with them. Phoenix is especially popular.
Someone says to Phoenix, “Hey, I’ve seen you on YouTube!” He smiles big at Phoenix and then looks at Black Knight. “Now you got a sidekick!”
“I’m not a sidekick,” Black Knight says. It’s the third time I’ve heard him say that.
I watch the two superheroes pose for more pictures. Nearby, a film crew gets footage of the whole interaction. They’re the crew of Matt Harrison and Ryan McNamee’s documentary called Citizen Heroes. They’re graciously allowing me to tag along with them so I can observe some real life superheroes in action.
Director Matt Harrison is on hand, keeping a sharp eye on the crowd to make sure the members of the camera crew are safe.
Assistant Director Ryan McNamee takes a quick break from shooting to tell me he has his bulletproof vest on. I put my hand out and pat his chest–yep, I guess that’s what a bulletproof vest feels like.
“Last time,” Ryan says, “we walked into a crowd of drug dealers and they were like, ‘If you don’t put away those cameras, we’re going to pull out a shotgun’.”
We follow Phoenix Jones and Black Knight as they make their rounds. I get a little bored while they handle a big crowd until I realize that they seem to be working the crowd, looking for anything out of place or potentially wrong.
Nearby, three members of Seattle’s police department stand on the raised median in the street, watching.
Phoenix Jones and Black Knight continue their patrol. The bar crowds dwindle. The documentary crew engages the superheroes with a few questions as we walk.
I’m lagging behind, trying to stay out of the camera’s view. I’m getting almost comfortable.
Then Phoenix Jones shouts, “HEY!” and takes off. The camera crew jogs after Phoenix. I follow the camera crew, completely unaware of what I’m running toward.
Then I hear a loud boom. Adrenaline surges through me. I keep running toward the sound.
I still can’t see what’s going on from behind the camera crew but I catch a glimpse of a man sort of messing with or dropping a temporary No Parking sign, the fold-up kind they put out for special events or irregular street cleaning.
Phoenix asks him if the nearby car is his. Apparently the guy was using the No Parking sign to try to bash open the car’s window.
I finally catch up to everyone else just as the guy tries to run.
Swiftly, Phoenix Jones snatches him by the arm and pins him to the ground. Black Knight covers him, holding up what could be pepper spray or mace in case it’s necessary.
The guy they just caught stops struggling after a short while. “Someone call nine-one-one,” Phoenix Jones says.
I’ve just had a massive shot of adrenaline. My body isn’t processing auditory sound yet. Later, after I’ve had a chance to see the camera footage, I’ll realize that Phoenix has already asked for someone to call 9-1-1 several times already. By the time I finally figure out what needs to be done, Director Matt Harrison is already calling.
Phoenix Jones stays in position, holding the guy on the ground.
“Are you okay?” Phoenix asks him several times. Yep, he’s okay.
A small group of people approaches from down the street. “We got nine-one-one comin’,” one says. They also called it in.
“You guys saw what just happened, right?” Phoenix asks them without getting up off of the detained guy.
“We got you, bro’,” says one of the witnesses.
“Can I get someone’s jacket?” Phoenix asks.
Finally, I realize I can do something to help. I take off my jacket and Phoenix tells me to put it under his head. I wedge it under the guy’s forehead so his face isn’t resting on the concrete. I still feel bad that I wasn’t faster to call 9-1-1.
The police arrive quickly and take over the scene. They know Phoenix and their interaction seems professional if not somewhat cordial. They ask questions of Phoenix, the witnesses across the street, and the guy that was caught.
While we wait for the police to finish their report, Phoenix goes over the incident with Black Knight. They talk about what went well and what they could have done better for next time.
I take a look at the car and I see paint from the No Parking sign smudged onto the window of the car. No damage, otherwise. This was a crime prevented.
You can watch footage of the exciting parts below, courtesy of the Citizen Heroes documentary (coming soon).
I text my girlfriend. It’s 4:30 in the morning and she’s waiting up so she can pick me up when we’re through and also to make sure I’m safe.
Earlier that night, we had a long talk about how following the superheroes on their patrol is a potentially dangerous thing to do, about how it’s possible that I could be hurt or worse.
I explained that this is a rare opportunity to see what is one of the beginnings of an incredible world-changing movement, and that, to me, witnessing this was a risk worth taking.
So she let me go.
After the police finish their report, and after the superheroes decide to call it a night, my girlfriend comes to pick me up.
The sun is still down. The streets of Seattle are quiet. As I get into the car, I can’t keep from smiling.