How it feels to be a crime-fighting superhero

Photograph by Fernando Decillis

“The Crimson Fist,” 27, Volunteer Crusader, Castleberry Hill

On a cold, dark night, the Crimson Fist gulped an energy drink and marched into the bowels of Atlanta—the Gulch—where he dodged screaming freight trains, prowled the weeds for stolen property, and searched under bridges for homeless men he knows by name. A typical night, basically. Raised on X-Men comics and superhero flicks in Gwinnett County, this homespun vigilante dons a red mask and carries pepper spray and a stun gun to patrol Castleberry Hill three nights a week. Sometimes joined by his sidekick (and wife), Metadata, he’s been foot-patrolling the city since 2006, using Atlanta police crime data to chart his courses. He’s contributed to the arrests of a couple dozen ne’er-do-wells, from vehicle larcenists to Nelson Street dope pushers.

I didn’t have costumes when I first started. I just decided to go Downtown and do it. I got off the train and started walking. About two years in, I came across my first crime. I was walking just north of Woodruff Park and heard breaking glass. There was a kid leaning in the window of a car. At the time, I didn’t have a very good mind-set about what it was to be a superhero. I only knew what I’d seen Batman do, and I was going to do that. I went over and pulled the kid out of the car, and I just started hitting him. I hit him more than I should have. I said, “Don’t ever let me catch you out here again,” and he ran off. I literally had his blood on my hands, and I realized that I didn’t help anybody that night. The name, the costume, all of that is a reminder: That kid’s blood is always going to be on my hands.

I’m on really good terms with most of the beat cops around here, to the point if they’re looking for a suspicious person and they spot me, they say, “Look out for this.” I feel like when you see somebody who needs help, you have to help them. It might not end well for you, but you have to help them.

If I have to get in a fight, I’ll fight really dirty. My [martial arts instructor] taught me to kick them in the dick, gouge their eyes, bite their face—whatever you have to do to win. It takes a very particular kind of crazy to really stick with this.

I work with kids a lot, and I’d like to be a role model for them. I’d like them to say to themselves, What would Crimson Fist do? Everyone has a part to play making their city or their neighborhood a better place. I feel like this is mine.

This article originally appeared in our May 2014 issue.