There’s Something About a Bully in Uniform

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It is a story both familiar and infuriating: Four guys in matching uniforms severely beat and handcuff an unarmed man who has done nothing wrong, and is later released without criminal charges. The assailants later insist that their gang violence was justified because of “aggressive” behavior on the part of the badly outnumbered victim.

“He kept getting real aggressive toward us,” said James Steel, who was in charge on the scene. “He swung on me.”

The victim was thrown against a wall, repeatedly punched in the face, and held in a headlock. One of his arms was broken in three places. He was later released without charges, despite Steel’s insistence that the man had been “stalking” the mother of Steel’s children.

Steel, who adopted “Nitro” as a “street name” for “security” purposes, spoke those words after being arrested — along with his comrades “Tank,” “Cowboy” and “Venom” — for felonious assault, false imprisonment, and making false reports. You see, Steel and his friends aren’t government police: They’re members of the Guardian Angels, an organization of unarmed citizens who act as a self-appointed police auxiliary.

Perhaps as a result of the bad company he’s been keeping, Steel assumes that he and his buddies have an unqualified right to assault anyone of their choosing, and that their victims commit criminal “aggression” when they fight back.

“There’s always someone out there who will be stupid and swing on us,” Steel told the Quad-City Times. “They swing on cops. Like cops, we have the right to defend ourselves in any way we can.”

Steel has a point, but it’s not the one he apparently thinks he’s making. If he and his faux-macho friends had been wearing government-issued costumes while they were “on duty,”  instead of the red berets and white t-shirts issued by their private club, their victim would almost certainly be in jail facing charges of aggravated battery and resisting arrest.

10:30 am on May 21, 2010