BY JASON COLLINGTON World Scene Writer
Saturday, May 15, 2004
12/19/08 at 1:08 AM
Real life vigilantes won't get any medals from law enforcement officials
The Punisher has joined Batman
as the latest comic-book character to grace the silver screen.
The two have different tactics,
but they are very much the
same. They're part of a small
group of characters in the comic-book universe who don't have
a single super power.
They're men. Men on a mission.
And because of that, a person
doesn't have to suspend too
much disbelief to wonder what it
would be like if they were real.
The Punisher and Batman aren't
real, but they could be. They're
just men in suits. If they were
real, some might call them vigilantes -- people who take the
law into their own hands.
A lot of them have become movie heroes lately, too. Three of
the top 10 movies involve vigilantes of some kind.
Vigilantes are alive and well in
America. Oklahoma even has
A look at newspapers across the
nation show that a number of
vigilantes are at work every day.
Some have popped up on the
Internet auction site Ebay to
help fight online auction fraud.
They contend that the company
is not doing enough to solve the
problem, pointing to the $200
million lost last year alone, according to the Federal Trade
One of the tactics used by Ebay
vigilantes is bidding extravagant
amounts on items they suspect
do not exist to protect innocent
bidders from taking the bait.
Citizens living along the Mexico
border in towns like Tombstone,
Ariz., have formed anti-illegal immigrant militias.
One, called Civil Homeland Defense, has its members carry a
pistol and wear a baseball cap
illustrated with an American flag.
The militias are made up of land
owners who complain that immigrants leave trash and human
excrement on their land, as well
as cut fences and frighten wildlife.
"If the government refuses to
provide security, then the only
recourse is to provide it ourselves," one part-time rancher
said in published reports. He
told USA Today, "I'm prepared
to take a life if I have to."
Maybe some of those prepared
militia members already have.
Authorities have reported a
handful of suspicious deaths of
undocumented immigrants over
the past three years.
In 2002, three men living outside
Detroit branded an alleged child
molester living in their neighborhood with a hot metal spatula.
They attacked the man after
learning he had sodomized some
of their young relatives.
After repeatedly pressing the
smoking spatula to his genitals,
buttocks, stomach and legs, the
group threw the man onto the
sidewalk, breaking his arm.
The branding case may indicate
how the public would respond if
a vigilante suddenly appeared
and started taking on criminals.
When the three admitted branders described their deeds after
pleading guilty to the attack, the
Detroit Free Press reported that
several courtroom spectators
nodded in approval.
The same was true during the
trial of Bernard Goetz, "the subway vigilante," who shot four
teenagers he thought were planning to rob him.
Back in the 1950s and '60s, vigilantes of a different kind could
be found in Tulsa. These crime
fighters were merchants who
were tired of being burglarized,
tired of seeing their theft insurance canceled.
In 1956, another "vigilante committee" was formed in Tulsa by
adults who wanted to combat juvenile crime and vandalism.
"We are tired of the way these
young thugs are coddled and
think some positive action must
be taken," one unidentified parent told the Tulsa World.
Today, vigilantes who go after
criminals might get public support if they don't cross the line
when it comes to their actions,
said Shawn Mears, owner of
Mammoth Comics in Tulsa.
"I think people would love it if
the vigilante really went after the
bad guys, not the video store
guy who closes five minutes early," he said.
But Mears added he doubts the
streets would be safer.
"It used to be you could get in a
fight with a bully and it would
be equal ground," he said. "Now
if someone talks to you in a
theater, you wonder if he's got a
In many comic books, the citizens are usually scared of a vigilante until the public can judge
whether the crime fighter is out
to do good, Mears said.
That is where Punisher and Batman differ. Although the two
were thrust into their roles after
the sudden and tragic deaths of
their families, they have differing
philosophies when it comes to
"The Punisher would be hunted
by us," said Andy Phillips, a retired Tulsa police officer and
huge comic book fan. "It would
be a love-hate thing. Now Batman -- he doesn't kill people.
That would be a plus."
While the Punisher constantly
eludes the authorities, the police
commissioner is the one who
turns on the bat signal, letting
Batman know the city needs his
"Anyone who says a city
wouldn't be better off with Batman needs to read the comics,"
Mears said. "He's a detective.
He's Sherlock Holmes with a
cape and athletic ability."
When it comes to the Punisher,
Mears said he wouldn't have any
problems if the vigilante went
after child molesters and wife
"I bet if the Punisher had a hotline, he would get a lot of calls,"
he said. In one of the Punisher's
current comic-book storylines, he
is captured by the government
and asked to hunt Osama bin
Laden and fight in Iraq.
Mears believes most people
don't want child molesters and
wife beaters allowed back on the
"I bet the Punisher would be
loved in that regard -- until one
of his stray bullets hit a state
senator's wife," he said.
In recent months, Tulsa has
seen a rise in gang-related
crimes and homicides. Local authorities have repeatedly warned
that vigilantism won't be tolerated.
Whenever real-life vigilantes appear, people always say the issue
is too much crime and not
enough police officers, Phillips
said, adding that a real-life Punisher wouldn't be able to survive
in real life.
Batman though -- someone who
works along side the police --
would be a different story, Phillips said, pointing to the success
of the unarmed red-bereted
But he said police wouldn't
cheer on a mercenary vigilante,
as they have in many vigilante
movies, including Charles Bronson's "Death Wish" films, in
which mild-mannered New York
architect Paul Kersey goes after
hard-core bad guys after the
murder of his wife and the rape
of his daughter.
Officers struggle sometimes
when the bad guys are caught
and the courts aren't able to get
a conviction because of a technicality, Phillips said.
Having someone act more as a
detective who doesn't have all
the limitations the police do
might be cheered privately by
some officers, but not publicly,
"But as it's shown in the comics,
what Batman does is a dangerous job," Phillips said. "I doubt
someone could really pull off
what he's able to do."
Jason Collington 581-8464
A member of the Guardian Angels from Falls Church, Va., waves an American flag after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The volunteer, weapon-free patrol has been around since 1979.