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Quadros 1 Victor Quadros Prof. Fogli Humanities Core 1C June 4, 2011 The Accuracy of Scholarly Analysis on a Modern Day Vigilante: Phoenix Jones Regardless of the time or place, vigilantes have emerged as defenders of the good and enemies of the bad. However, what vigilantes consider good and bad may not always be accepted unanimously by all. Most vigilantes share a stern philosophy that their actions improve the society in which they live in. For this reason, vigilantes find themselves in severe situations that potentially risk their lives. Nonetheless, a portion of society respects and condones vigilante efforts, while the other portion finds it foolish and unacceptable. Vigilantes are never compensated for their actions and in actuality face greater expenses than profit. This raises the question of why do vigilantes do what they do? Various scholars have attempted to define this question by analyzing vigilante behavior. Some believe it is important to first examine how he became a vigilante in order to explain a vigilante’s actions; while others accept that a vigilante’s opinion on his society allows for an explanation of his actions. Although scholarly analysis offers a deeper understanding of vigilante behavior, is it universally applicable? Phoenix Jones, a self-proclaimed vigilante of Seattle, conforms to most characteristics of a vigilante. Therefore, Jones may serve as a primary example to test the contingency of scholarly analysis. Although existing scholarly analysis offers a deeper insight into Jones’ actions, it fails to offer an exhaustive understanding of his reasoning for being a vigilante. Jones’ outlandish admiration for comics and strong desire to help society explain his reasons for taking on the persona of a vigilante.


Quadros 2 Considering that a vigilante’s formation is directly proportional to their environment offers a greater understanding of their actions. Vigilantes form in response to the amount of crime their society faces. Therefore, high crime rates in populated urban settings lead to the increased probability of the formation of vigilantes (Madison). High crime rates suggest a lack of law enforcement due to a largely populated city. Vigilantes form because they feel that society needs them for protection (Hine). According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Seattle has a population of over six hundred thousand citizens and a crime rate of roughly forty points above the national rate. Statistically, Seattle fits the description established by Madison. Jones claims in an interview held with Karlinksy that he will “not let [his] fellow citizens be assaulted and not do anything” about it. Due to the high crime rates of Seattle, Jones feels compelled to help deter as much crime as possible by patrolling the streets. Jones’ formation supports the theory presented by Madison in regards to the proportionality shared between crime rates and the occurrence of vigilantes. Jones’ sense of obligation to protect his city supports Hine as well. Due to a lack of trust in the legal system, vigilantes believe in a swift mode of punishment thus resulting in them taking the law into their own hands. Vigilantes associate high crime rates as a result of the lack of effectiveness of the law (Neely). As a result, vigilantes patrol the streets to accomplish what they feel law enforcement cannot to an extent: capture the criminal. Some scholars, like vigilantes, support the idea that at times law lacks in protecting its citizens. In Manners and Customs of the Police, Black claims that citizens “need to engage in more self-help than relying so heavily upon law.” Jones states that “citizens need to be more accountable” (Karlinsky). Jones categorizes himself as a “responsible citizen” standing up for his community in preventing the abuse of criminals. Jones demonstrates his belief in self-help when suggesting citizen’s need to be more “accountable” for their community. However, Jones’


Quadros 3 advocacy of self-help promotes the idea that everyone needs to do their part against crime. Jones’ self-help supports Hine’s claim that vigilantes feel society needs them for protection. Jones implying that all citizens should “be more accountable” indicates that citizens should protect themselves, yet because they choose not to, Jones is compelled in assisting them in doing so. Black’s claim also compares to Wisler’s, who states in “Community Policing in Comparison” that vigilantes lack trust in law enforcement. Jones states, “Calling 911 is a great start, but it's not the end all to end all” (Karlinsky). Jones’ suggesting that society cannot just depend on law enforcement to deter crime indicates his absence of faith in the law. An absence of faith in the law indicates that Jones feels obligated to fight crime because he believes the law enforcement of Seattle fails to protect his society. Comprehending a vigilante’s mindset on the criminals he targets offers an understanding of the reasons for his actions and his views on society. A vigilante observes criminals as living outside the levels of society. To a vigilante, criminals choose to obstruct the communal ties that bind a society together resulting in their exclusion from society. Because criminals are not considered a part of society, vigilantes feel they are not entitled to the safety of the laws (O’Connor). In “Vigilante Mindset,” Zimring claims that “the vigilante mindset is the opposite of the due process mindset.” The “due process mindset” consists of the enforcement of the law to best distribute fairness and liberties to the accused. Vigilantes on the other hand solely emphasize the enforcement of justice. Vigilantes wish to capture their criminals and ensure that they suffer for the crimes they have committed. Vigilantes prefer “swift legal action;” from the streets straight to jail, avoiding the complicated courtroom processes (Hine). Officer Kappel of Seattle in regards to Phoenix Jones states, “There's nothing wrong with citizens getting involved with the criminal justice process as long as they follow it all the way through” (McNerthney).


Quadros 4 Every time the police arrive to one of Jones’ “busts,” he offers the police his witnessing statements for their police reports but he never follows up in court. Jones not appearing in court to serve as a witness against his alleged criminals supports all the scholars mentioned above. Jones perceives criminals to be set apart from society, and therefore excluded from the safety of society’s laws. Because criminals should not be entitled to society’s laws, Jones apprehends them with a “vigilante mindset;” which consists of “swift legal action” that relies solely on the enforcement of justice with no due process. Therefore, Jones’ lacking to follow through as a witness in court indicates his lack of support in the legal system because he believes it offers his criminals rights they do not deserve. Unfortunately what Jones fails to consider is that his apprehended criminals are subject to more rights because he fails to appear and testify against them. Just as vigilantes believe criminals are set apart from society, little do they know, vigilantes too set themselves apart from society. The United States holds society to be equal under the law. All people in society must follow the laws set by the government in order for equality to apply to all. Those who choose not to abide by the law are considered criminals and exclude themselves from society. Vigilantes strongly support equality in society and peruse criminals to personally ensure justice is served to them. However, when vigilantes take the law into their own hands they unintentionally exclude themselves from society like the criminals they attempt to capture. Vigilantes promote “vigilante justice,” which may be defined as fulfilling the needs of society to properly punish criminals as vigilantes see fit (Abrahams). Vigilantes allow their personal emotions serve as a bias for discerning what society may actually want, resulting in vigilantes punishing criminals by means of revenge and not civility (Zimring). Revenge causes a vigilante to excessively harm the people he deems criminals, thus abridging on their civil


Quadros 5 rights. Enacting personal revenge on another person is considered illegal and places vigilantes above the law. Jones expresses significant amounts of revenge when describing the criminals he pursues. Jones states on a television interview held by Robin Roberts on ABC News that he promotes a “message that tells people, drug dealers and criminals that we’re against the violence you’re trying to do.” His message addresses both the people he protects and those he considers criminals. Jones describes himself and the people he protects in the third person pronoun “we.” The word choice of “we” indicates that Jones includes himself as a part of society and chooses to represent society by targeting criminals. Jones excludes criminals from society by using the second person pronoun “you.” Given the context of the interview, Jones addresses the criminals of Seattle on a very personal note signifying strong negative emotions towards them. Because Jones harbors such strong negative emotions towards a group of people he feels abuses society, he will gradually build up an urge for revenge. Jones has yet to allow his urge for revenge abridge the civil rights of the criminals he targets. According to Abrahams and Zimring, it is only a matter of time until Jones unintentionally unleashes his revenge thus placing himself apart from society. Some vigilantes literally set themselves apart from society by wearing a costume. One of the reasons vigilantes wear a costume is to protect their identity. In the past, well know vigilante groups would have their members wear uniforms/costumes to distinguish their members from society. A vigilante group’s reputation would determine whether their members would wear a costume or uniform. The Ku Klux Klan, one of the most recognizable vigilante groups of the South, practiced extremely illegal acts on the different groups of people they considered threats to society. Because of the extreme illegality of their actions, Ku Klux Klan members wore an entire white costume with a signature conical hat hiding their faces. The Guardian Angels, a


Quadros 6 vigilante group from New York City, hold a much more positive reputation than that of the Ku Klux Klan. Guardian Angels members wear a uniform consisting of a red jacket and beret. Members of the Guardian Angels do not hide their identity because they abide by the laws of society. A new trend emerging in self-proclaimed vigilantes today is to wear costumes resembling comic book superheroes. Phoenix Jones is an example of a self-proclaimed vigilante fitting this trend. These vigilantes abide by the laws of society, yet find it necessary to conceal their identities. Vigilantes protect their identity to ensure that they may live two different lives: one with and one apart from society (Abrahams). When not wearing his costume, Jones goes to work and comes home to his wife and kids. Jones avoids negative attention to himself by secretly abiding to the laws of society and concealing his vigilante identity. On the other hand, when wearing a costume, Jones places himself outside the norms of society resulting in his exclusion from society. Jones’ costume separates him from the average citizens he protects and the criminals he targets. Jones states that his costume “[symbolizes] that the average person doesn’t have to walk around and see bad things and do nothing about it” (Karlinsky). Even though Jones’ costume literally separates him from society, he still considers himself an “average person.” Jones’ intention when wearing his costume is to separate himself from the criminals he pursues, not from the society he protects. In reality, Jones’ appearance fits the norms of criminals because criminals tend to disguise their identity when preforming a crime as an attempt to avoid their easy capture if they flee. There are several reported incidents of citizens calling the police after seeing Phoenix Jones because they mistook him as a criminal in a costume (Spangenthal-Lee). In order for Jones’ costume to be considered a symbol all of Seattle would need to be aware of his presence. Jones wishes his costume would place the type of fear on his targets as a Ku Klux Klan’s conical hat placed on its, and yet ensure his good intentions to society like the red beret of


Quadros 7 a Guardian Angel. Because Jones mixes traits associated with both these opposite groups, he confuses society and thus unintentionally excludes himself from society. Modern day vigilantes go beyond extensive scholarly analysis and simply form on their admiration for comic books and desire to help society. A lifetime of reading comic books has enough potential to inspire an average person to take up the persona of a vigilante. A nationwide vigilante movement group known as “Real Life Superheroes” has over three thousand registered members who fit the description of this new modern day vigilante. These modern day vigilantes share similar traits to the more extreme vigilantes before them. Therefore, scholarly analysis applying to the majority of all vigilantes may apply to them as well. In regards to formation, scholarly analysis serves to be too comprehensive for explaining a new modern day vigilante’s. Criminologists have yet to link the effects comic books have as a main cause for vigilantism. However, psychologists have confirmed through research that exposure to violent media appears to increase aggressive behavior, thoughts, and feelings in children, adolescents, and young adults (Kirsh). Phoenix Jones admitted that his favorite comic book series that inspired him the most to become a vigilante was “The Green Lantern.” “The Green Lantern” comic book series is published by DC Entertainment. Considering that Phoenix Jones is in his early twenties, it can be suggested that he began reading “The Green Lantern” in the early 1990’s. Up until the early 2000’s, DC Entertainment’s comic books were content regulated by the Comics Code Authority. DC Entertainment began publishing comics regardless of the CCA’s ruling in hopes of appealing to adult audiences. As Jones grew up reading “The Green Lantern,” violence throughout the comic book series began rising because of DC’s CCA abandonment. Therefore, the excessive violence in “The Green Lantern” offers sufficient implication for increasing Jones’ levels of aggression growing up supporting Anderson’s research. Even though the violence in the comic


Quadros 8 book series was unintentionally heightening Jones’ aggression, the central theme of nobility influenced him the most. Abundant in all superhero based comic books is a central theme of nobility; which promotes being an ideal role model and helping society. The positive message incorporated in comic books combined with a powerful aggression towards injustices in society explains the main reason why Phoenix Jones took up the persona of a vigilante. Jones’ principle reasoning for becoming a vigilante applies to the majority of the members of the modern day vigilante movement. Society is the root of all vigilant behavior. Vigilantes believe that their actions help improve the society in which they live in. Scholars have successfully analyzed the relationship between society and a vigilante’s actions. Due to a lack of trust in the legal system, vigilantes believe in a swift mode of punishment thus resulting in them taking the law into their own hands. A vigilante observes criminals as living outside the levels of society and targets them with a “vigilante mindset;” which consists of “swift legal action” that relies solely on the enforcement of justice with no due process. Vigilantes allow their personal emotions serve as a bias for discerning what society may actually want, resulting in vigilantes punishing criminals by means of revenge and not civility. Enacting personal revenge on another person is considered illegal and places vigilantes above the law, thus excluding them from society like the criminals they pursue. Some vigilantes literally set themselves apart from society by wearing either a costume or uniform depending on their reputation being illegal or legal. Recently, a new group of modern day vigilantes go beyond extensive scholarly analysis and simply form on their admiration for comic books and desire to help society. Phoenix Jones, a self –proclaimed vigilante from Seattle, may be considered a part of this new group of modern day vigilantes. Scholarly analysis does offer a greater comprehension of Jones’ behavior; however it fails in offering an explanation for


Quadros 9 his formation. Examining Jones revealed that, at times, incongruent variables arise when comparing his behavior to scholarly expectations. Due to the fact that Jones is a part of a new group of vigilantes, it is required of scholars to add to their existing information of vigilant behavior this new group. Phoenix Jones is one of many examples that demonstrate society’s capability to constantly change.


Quadros 10 Works Cited Abrahams, R. Vigilant citizens: Vigilantism and the state. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1996. Black, D. & M. Baumgartner. Manners and Customs of the Police. NY: Academic Press, 1983. 193-208. Hine, Kelly. “Vigilantism Revisited.” Washington College of Law. 16 Dec. 2010. American University. Web. 6 May 2011. Karlinsky, Neal. “Vigilante Justice: Real Superheroes Fight Crime.” ABC News. 7 Jan. 2010. ABC News Internet Ventures. Web. 6 May 2011. Kirsh, Steven. “The Effects of Extremely Violent Comic Books….” State University of New York, Geneseo. Nov. 2002. Sage Publications. Web. June 3, 2011. Madison, A. Vigilantism in America. NY: Seabury Press, 1973. McNerthney, Casey. “Police alerted to 'superheroes' patrolling Seattle.” Seattle PI. June 1, 2011. Hearst Communications Inc. Web. June 2, 2011. Neely, Richard. Take back your neighborhood: The case for modern-day vigilantism. NY: Donald I. Fine Books, 1990. O'Connor, T. “Vigilantism, Vigilante Justice, and Self-Help.” DrTomOConnor. Aug 26, 2011. Mega-Links. Web. June 3, 2011. Spangenthal-Lee, Jonah. “On Patrol With Phoenix Jones: Guardian of Seattle.” SeattleCrime. 11 Nov. 2010. SeattleCrime. Web. 2 May 2011. Wisler, Dominique. “Community Policing in Comparison.” Texas Southern University. Dec. 2008. Police Quarterly. Web. 13 May 2011. Zimring, Franklin. “The Consequences of Fundamental Conflict.” Vigilante Mindset. NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 2011. Web. June 2, 2011.


The Accuracy of Scholarly Analysis on a Modern Day Vigilante: Phoenix Jones