Over the years, I've patrolled with many different RLSH, and a lot of them wear masks. I understand the arguments for wearing the mask to protect their identity. However, I believe many heroes have the wrong idea about wearing the mask all the time, especially while on street patrols.
The one thing I've tried to stress is knowing your goals as an RLSH and then adapting your uniforms and equipment to support those goals. The same should go for our masks as well. I'll admit, the mask can hide your identity. When people are asked to remember faces they generally only remember the outstanding characteristics. For example, one thing people remember about Superhero is that he’s bald, Silver Sentinel has a magnificent beard, and that Tothian has big ears. So a well-made mask can help disguise features. In my experience, wearing a mask makes a person a target. I’ve seen people harass an RLSH simply because they wore a mask. And the scarier the mask, the more confrontational people were. Being defensive, or fearful, is not the same thing as being cowardly. Fear leads to anger and irrational action.
Try donning the mask before taking action. Slip it on and slip it off. If people are looking for a guy in a mask, when you're dashing away heroically, take it off for a quick disappearing act.
Hiding and concealment. I patrol with a guy name Antiman, and when he hides in parks or dark corners, I can’t see him… I really can’t. In this case, his wearing a mask helps his mission.
A full face mask reduces visibility. You need your eyesight and ability to use your peripheral vision. While on patrol you have to be alert. You need all your faculties. Limiting your vision for the sake of looking like Batman limits your ability to act effectively. You need to be able to see when someone is about to hit you from the side. You also run the risk of someone cranking your mask around and blinding you. So carefully choose the style of your mask or what kind of goggles you wear.
Another issue, I feel is important, that I would like to address is your RLSH color scheme. I, myself, made the mistake of choosing the wrong colors for my uniform. I've been mistaken for a police officer, which at times intimidates people in the wrong way. We have control over how people react based on our chosen color scheme. A majority of RLSH wear black. In the past, I’ve defended this because a lot of military and police surplus equipment comes in black, but wearing all black does make other people nervous. People are fearful of men and women dressed head to toe in black and wearing black body armor. Add a mask and now you’ve added an extra element of weirdness that makes people aggressive. People don’t think “superhero” when they see a guy or gal in all black with a mask. They think that you are there to cause a problem. People will try to harass an RLSH who looks like a ninja or a terrorist. This is not a personal theory, but a proven observed fact. I know one former RLSH who was attacked by 4 army soldiers for trying to break up a fight.
So review your goals and needs. If you are doing street patrols, is it wise to draw attention to yourself? You can wear your bulletproof armor and body protection gear, but will you draw unnecessary attention to yourself with a mask? If you wear certain types of gear are you going to limit your ability to move? Can you get in and out of a car?
I will end this with a list of what I’ve done to adapt my look according to situations.
1. I do wear tactical gear. I find that it is easier for me to wear this while doing driving patrols. If I double it up with my bulletproof vest, I cannot get out of a car quickly and I have a hard time driving a car. I’ve limited my ability to drive effectively. Regardless I wear the tactical gear while driving. I can then “spring” into action on a moment’s notice.
2. On street patrols in dangerous neighborhoods, I switch to just my bulletproof vest. I need my ability to move around and use all my limbs. I don’t wear my leather jacket because it slows down my arm movement. I also don’t carry supplies because it weighs me down.
3. During homeless outreach, I just wear the basic pants and spandex… I might dress it up with some knee padding for decoration. it looks different then what a police officer wears, so I won’t be mistaken for one. I do this because I need to carry supplies to hand out and the less weight I have on my body the better. I also feel I need to limit how flashy I appear when providing supplies to those who need it. It’s about who I help.
Zetaman is a costumed activist located in Portland, Oregon. The views and comments of Zetaman do not reflect on the views of the RLSH community.