On Saturday I found myself in downtown San Diego, patrolling with Real Life Superhero group The Xtreme Justice League.
We met at the Hall of Justice, donned superhero costumes with protective plates, and set out to keep the area safe. It was real. It was all real.
On Friday I met with two Real Life Superhero (RLSH) groups and joined them for a book signing, then on Saturday they held a homeless outreach program and a barbecue (I wrote about the book signing, homeless outreach program, and barbecue here).
After the barbecue would come a benefit concert and a crime-fighting patrol. But first came sleep. As soon as our car full of crimefighters got back to the rental house, I felt the previous night catch up to me.
The weekend had been a wonderful and weird whirlwind— I was whipped and nearly wiped out. Wary of being a weary watchman, I wisely willed myself to a worthwhile afternoon nap. Why? Because I have a history of seizures and didn’t want to be a liability that night.
After a nap, I jumped in a car with Real Life SuperHeroes (RLSH) Doctor Mystery, Razorhawk, and NightBug and went to a charity concert at Grassroots Oasis, a small venue on San Diego’s outskirts.
Atlanta’s Crimson Fist, a RLSH and occasional TED speaker (video here) played the first set, an mix of cover songs and originals. “This is a traditional song from my homeland,” he declared before he sang an acoustic rendition of Outkast’s “The Whole World.”
Next came Lindsay White, a San Diegan folk singer who sang acoustic songs about trying to be a pillar for others while struggling to find her own way. I connected with it deeply, remembering when I had tried to be a stable influence for a grieving family in May while dealing with nearly-crippling problems myself.
The final band to play was The Filthy Mudbloods, comprised mostly of superheroes from San Francisco. Everybody except me recognized their pop-rock cover songs and sang along.
After the concert, Razorhawk, Doctor Mystery, and I headed to San Diego’s Hall of Justice to do an anti-crime patrol with the Xtreme Justice League. Yes, really, the Hall of Justice. Meeting under the gigantic letters HALL OF JUSTICE before a public safety patrol felt so perverted and perfect.
The Xtreme Justice League is a San Diego group which focuses on crime prevention and safety patrols, patrolling in superhero regalia and stopping bar fights, escorting women safely to their cars or cabs, helping people get medical help, and offering a protective presence. After a rash of sexual assaults at San Diego State University, student groups asked the XJL to patrol on campus for a time to prevent the assaults, which they gladly did. The San Diego police, initially skeptical, now cooperate with the crime-fighting group. The XJL started in San Diego in 2006 but has since formed branches in Oklahoma and North Carolina.
A dozen of us gathered on the steps in front of the hall at 11:00, ignoring the odd stares from the security guards standing inside. I was the only one without a costume so the wonderful Violet Valkyrie gave me a blue motorcycle mask to wear. It was hot and didn’t fit under my hat, but it felt right to have something over my face.
I got to better know some of the XJL members and talked to Nyght, better known as Jon, who stuck out as he wore body armor and had a “F*CK ISIS” military-style patch on his tactical vest. Nyght was an active duty Marine and was mentoring a young XJL member who would be joining the U.S. Marine Corps in the coming months. A quarter of the XJL is in the military, which was later reflected in the XJL’s patrol and communication styles. After a short wait, XJL founder Mr. Xtreme arrived with The Grim and we made two lines in front of the hall.
Mr. Xtreme, Grim, and Freedom Fighter stood in front of the group and held a badging ceremony for Impact, a superhero from North Carolina who was given the Xtreme Justice League badge and patch for official recognition of him opening an XJL branch in North Carolina. The XJL badge resembles a police officer’s badge and is typically worn on the hip, while the XJL patch is sewn anywhere on the uniform. The XJL logo is close enough to the NFL logo that the XJL will likely be in need of a lawyer soon.
Those of us on the steps in front of the Hall of Justice stood silently as Impact was sworn into the XJL in a ceremony led by Mr. Xtreme. Impact repeated a scripted statement, swearing not to escalate situations violently, bring any type of weapon on patrol, or act in a way which brings disrespect on himself or the XJL.
After the badging ceremony, Mr. Xtreme left and the rest split into three teams. The teams had a military-like organization, which each including a leader, a runner to communicate with other groups or handle anything urgent, and a medic. “Who’s your medic?” Grim asked the team I was standing with. We looked at each other silently before looking back at Grim.
“Alright,” Grim called out, “Who is CPR certified and has a first aid kit?” A woman and a man raised their hands. She was a nurse, he got his CPR certification through a Red Cross class. They each stood apart from each other and the teams were organized around them. Grim explained that every team must have a CPR certified member and a first aid kit. Our three teams became two.
I was grouped with Freedom Fighter, the group leader, Nightengale, our medic, LightFist, our runner, along with Spartan, Doctor Mystery, and Razorhawk. Before beginning the patrol, Freedom Fighter did a radio check with the other team and briefed us. He went over the route we would follow and our patrol standards, specifically the value of de-escalation, which is the XJL’s first, second, and third response. We were also, he told us, not there to stop recreational drug users. Then, we lined up in two columns and started the patrol. It was 11:30.
I took off my mask a minute into the patrol, which was the most interesting thing that happened to us before midnight. We spent the first 30 minutes walking in a dark-but-not-isolated area, learning patrolling basics such as which hand signals to use for stops, turns, and emergencies. By the time we got to a crowded area the nerves had worn off, which we were all happy about. A quiet start to the patrol was a great way to go into the rest comfortably.
As we got near the bar district, we saw a man ahead of us lying on the sidewalk in pain. Nightengale talked to him for two minutes, making sure he didn’t need to be hospitalized. After determining that he was safe, Nightengale spent five minutes arranging a ride home for the man. When his friend arrived, our team left, soon finding ourselves overpowered by overpriced cologne: we had reached the bar district.
We patrolled around the city’s most popular bars to discourage drunk drivers and help women get around safely. Despite our cartoonishness and their drunkenness, few people gave us much attention. Some people stared at us, some stopped for pictures, but nobody harassed or mocked us as I had expected they would. The XJL was already known by law enforcement and some community groups, and their picture plastered on the cover of the most recent San Diego Reader magazine gave them credibility with visitors.
“Stop,” Freedom fighter said as he held up a fist. “Back to back.” Our team stopped and stood shoulder to shoulder, forming a circle where each of us faced outward. As I stepped out to look at something down the road, a stranger walked through the circle. “Jason, you need to stay closer,” Freedom Fighter told me.
I thought going shoulder to shoulder at every stop light was silly and unnecessary— my patrols in Iraq were less strict. But I wasn’t from San Diego, had never patrolled with the XJL before so I listened. Their town, their rules. I followed along and stood shoulder to shoulder at every stop.
At around 12:30 we saw a man crouched down with his head in his hands. He was sick, in pain, and wanted to go home. Mostly he wanted to use one of our cell phones and didn’t want to give it back. After ten minutes, his friend arrived and we got our phone back. What a slow night.
We had similar encounters over the next hour, stopping from time to time to talk to curious passers-by or help people going through drug withdrawals. We weren’t fighting crime as much as we were acting as a safety patrol. The realization that there was no crime around us and we would spend our night helping drunks was both boring and satisfying.
We stopped to help more and more people as the bars emptied out. Most said they were fine and stumbled away as they flagged down cars they thought were taxis, though one was unable to stand up. Nightengale walked to her to see what was wrong and bent down to talk to her before the woman exploded, “Get the fuck away from me! I’m fine!” And that was that.
At 2:00 a.m. I convinced Freedom Fighter to stop by a 7-11. I hadn’t eaten for 12 hours and my seizure disorder was starting to go haywire, giving me auras and confusion. I hated slowing the group down. I hated being the new guy who needed special treatment. After wolfing down two granola bars, I my head felt fine and I forgot what I had felt bad about.
While I tried to stay vigilant for the whole four hours, boredom eventually snuck in. Our eyes scanned in every direction, though our minds wandered. I found myself talking to Freedom Fighter and two others about the divine flavor of boxed macaroni and cheese, comparing brands and the merits of adding hot dogs or ketchup.
“Look!” interrupted Nightengale, as she pointed to a man leaning on a building across the street. We were quickly there with him and, as always, helped him find a ride home.
After 30 more minutes, we found ourselves back at the Hall of Justice with the other team. We had been out for four hours and nothing had happened. Well, something had happened seven times, but that something was Nightengale helping a disoriented person while the rest of us pulled security. It was useful and I was glad to help, though I thought there would be more crime fighting involved in our crime fighting patrol. The more I thought about it, the happier I was that nothing had happened.
Having nothing happen during a patrol is boring, but is infinitely better than being surrounded by violence and people desperate for medical help.
Just before the patrol debrief, an XJL member whispered a message to me: “You should be here when Mr. Xtreme does debriefs, he makes even the quietest patrols sound exciting!”