Batman or dingbat? Vigilante superheroes and the law

Batman or dingbat? Vigilante superheroes and the law

Batman or dingbat? Vigilante superheroes and the law Photo by Tom Chang

By now, most of us have seen the video of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter and professional superhero Phoenix Jones knocking out a racist aggressor.

The fight was a spectacle. The two men agreed to terms, shook hands, and engaged in mutually consented combat. Jones nimbly danced around his opponent, kicking his thighs and forcing him toward a wall before delivering a final calculated blow. Miles: Believe it or not, last week’s fisticuffs on the Ave were legal, and arguably justified. “Mutual combat” is a legal precedent that emerged from Washington-case law, which gives citizens the opportunity to seek a consensual, and legal, fight. Furthermore, the Seattle Municipal Code (12A.06.025) allows for fighting that is duly licensed or authorized by the law. It’s a compromise, a course of action for handling a potentially violent circumstance while also being mindful of the law. Sohrab: Yet we should also be aware of what the fight between Jones and his opponent was: vigilante justice. While the current interpretation of Washington’s laws permits mutual combat, we should move to forbid the antiquated provision. Jones talked about his altercation on “The Dori Monson Show.” He said mutual combat is not an explicitly codified exception to assault and battery laws but rather an interpretation that allows fighting parties to scuff it out over insults of pride. Opponents who brawl in public obviously jeopardize their own safety by fighting in unregulated and unsupervised contests. There are no rules dictating the difference in size or ability of competitors. The case law allows for incredible mismatches like the one between Jones, a professional MMA fighter with multiple black belts, and the racist instigator. Miles: On the other hand, it isn’t the responsibility of any governing body to decide whether or not adults can partake in “combat” if both sides are willing. Fighting is similar to other negative influences in our society, like drugs and alcohol. An institution of provisions, like mutual-combat case law helps to keep such vices from becoming overly detrimental. Fighting is no different. It’s more effective to be realistic about what will always occur in our society. Washington grants citizens the chance to make good judgments about how they handle hostile confrontations. The way Jones handled the altercation on the Ave was an effective alternative to walking away because the fight ended quickly and without further incident. Being followed by a group of men, Jones was threatened and taunted. He offered to engage an aggressor in a mutual fight. When police arrived, Jones informed them of the pending showdown. Then, Jones basically knocked the attacker down with one punch. The police proceeded to dismiss Jones from the scene, and he walked away. Sohrab: But these open fights also put the public in danger. The locus of combat quickly shifts, as it did in the video of Jones. If it had been during the day, people certainly would have been caught up in the scuffle and could have been injured. The fighters who engage in mutual combat put others — as well as themselves — in danger. And that’s why the cops who did supervise Jones’ fight warned him and his opponent that if anyone was caught in their scuffle, they would be sighted for disturbing the peace. Miles: There is still the issue of what happens when a fight takes place without warning. If the fight was not condoned by police, the outcome would have been much worse. When officers come upon a fight not “authorized by law,” they are faced with a dangerous task. They must physically intervene and, if necessary, use weapons to diffuse the situation. When a police officer arrives before the fight occurs, he can discourage both parties from fighting. If the dueling parties are unwilling to back off, the officer can observe and be ready to intervene if bystanders are put in danger. Sohrab: Mutual combat undermines the authority and ability of law enforcement. Society designates police officers to ensure public peace because they can be held accountable by civil regulation if they overstep their bounds. But there is no way for civilians to control crime-fighters like Jones. Under the current law, vigilantes can instigate fights with people they consider “suspicious.” Miles: Yet in this particular case, the fight ended promptly. The results of mutual-combat case law is a controlled environment, in which police can be on-hand to ensure bystanders don’t suffer injury, and property isn’t destroyed. Even when a subject tries to evade a fight, it doesn’t decrease the likelihood a fight will ensue. Providing the option of fighting in a controlled environment, within legal bounds, expedites the situation and keeps tension to a minimum. Mutual combat assures fights happen between two individuals and not everyone else. We both conclude: Whether mutual-combat case law is maintained, or abolished, or reformed, the government and the public still need to have a discourse on how to best handle public fighting. It’s a divisive issue that simultaneously inspires our best — vigilante altruism — and our worst — uninhibited violence. Reach opinion writers Sohrab Andaz and Miles Liatos at opinion@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @SohrabAndaz, @MilesDaily


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