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Sorvari became a mini cause célèbre. Occupy Oakland's general assembly voted to donate his $1,500 bail from $20,000 that Occupy Wall Street had sent to help with legal costs. A host at progressive radio station KPFA called him "a courageous young man," praised his "Boy Scout ethic" on the air, and asked if Sorvari considered Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi role models. Sorvari responded that his idols were more like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.
If The Ray's supporters had asked him about his mission in Antioch, they might have been less ecstatic.
"I'm not trying to be racist or anything, but in Antioch you have to be aware of certain colors, unfortunately," Sorvari says.
The suburban city was 3 percent black in 1990, and 17 percent in the 2010 census. Sorvari is not the only longtime resident unnerved by the change. Neighborhood watches have proliferated, city councilmembers have railed against crime, and the city just settled a discrimination lawsuit with black Section 8 residents who claim police targeted them for enforcement actions. Brad Seligman, the attorney who represented the case along with the ACLU, says several of the plaintiffs moved out after the unwelcome treatment. "It seems most of that had died down, so it's unfortunate there's a new person out there perpetuating this," he says.
Sorvari says he's just calling it like he sees it — yet his terminology can veer into straight Jim Crow. About Phoenix Jones getting headlines, he says, "If you look for superheroes, there's a lot of white people, so having a figure who's colored is really cool because it shows we're not a Nazi group." Speaking of the skate park rumble, he says, "There were so many black people there they turned day into night."
Antioch Police Capt. Leonard Orman says Sorvari's focus on race is unsettling. "We have people who perpetuate crimes from all walks of life. If anything, that is an indication of his narrow view of society and crime."
Orman's department had firsthand experience with The Ray in August, when police were dispatched to the skate park to check out a guy in a black ninja gear. As Sorvari tells it, the cop started pulling at his armor and asked to see how his Taser worked. In the ensuing struggle, the cop Tased himself on Sorvari's weapon. Sorvari was arrested for resisting arrest and possession of an illegal weapon, the expandable baton in his sheath.
"He told me I was under arrest, and I said 'Why?'" Sorvari says on a recent afternoon, acting out the struggle beside the kitchen table where Lynn home-schools her younger children. "I'm not going to surrender for no reason."
Lynn pipes up: "No, I think you have to, don't you?"
"But there has to be a reason," Sorvari answers. "He didn't give me any rights or anything."
Sorvari was booked into a Richmond jail, but the district attorney didn't pursue the charges. Even after that, Captain Orman concedes that they see Sorvari as more or a potential victim than a threat. "He's out looking for troublemakers. Another way of saying that is he's looking for trouble and he's eventually going to find it."
A couple weeks after Occupy bailed him out of Santa Rita jail, The Ray strides into the Tenderloin on a misty Friday night with Motor Mouth and Mutinous Angel. With his supersuit booked into evidence, The Ray donned a white leather jacket from Goodwill, with LED lights on his pants, and a GPS device on a leather wrist-cuff. Mutinous' dark eyebrows peek out from a purple-and-black spandex suit complete with titanium gloves and a groin protector. Motor looks right out of South Park — a hunter's cap with earflaps pulled over an orange scarf that covered his face, a winter parka zipped over his rotund, 5-foot-4 frame.
Motor says he didn't go full-out on the gear in a compromise with Mutinous, who is self-conscious about "people seeing me as some sort of weirdo." In costume, Mutinous prefers to patrol in his Mutinous Mobile, a black Mitsubishi Eclipse with purple lights glowing underneath. This time he's indulging Motor.
Walking the Tenderloin, Motor Mouth keeps up nonstop commentary. "See my fingers?" he asks, as he passes some hollowed-out junkies. "That's how many crack pipes we just walked by." (Or, "I guarantee you a fourth to a half of the people out here are buying or selling, or at least running.") The Ray makes naive exclamations like "That's the biggest Burger King I've ever seen!" He names the green street restrooms "Space toilets."
Mutinous mostly walks in silence. Six years ago, his Muslim girlfriend's family "kidnapped her" and made her marry within the faith. Mutinous, a 29-year-old Mexican-born American and devout Christian, explains, "I don't want to be with anybody else. Men who are single on their own really want to do something extreme, I guess."
It's legal to carry a licensed firearm in a locked case — like the one in NRA-member Mutinous' back seat — or a Taser, or pepper spray. But actually using the weapons plunges the superheroes into a legal gray area in which they would have to prove that use had been in self-defense. Motor explains the superheroes' code: First, they attempt to stop crime simply by being there — dudes in spandex are often enough to make troublemakers split. Second, they use verbal commands. Only if the first two methods fail will they get physical.
Apart from The Ray's recent actions at Occupy, none of them have had to yet.
Still, there is no superhero academy, and no badge to vouch for their judgment. They are self-appointed. Do-Luck, the superhero based in San Jose, tells me about stopping a fight. "The guy yelled, 'Who the hell do you think you are to do this?' I said, 'I'm nobody. I'm just going to Tase you and arrest you.'"