NEW YORK—In the darkest hours of night, Chris Pollak roams the city for unscrupulous behavior. Wearing a bulletproof vest, and a belt that holds first aid, he shines his flashlight in the faces of gang members and drug dealers. “Hey!” he would shout in an authoritative voice. “This is a drug-free park.”
The crooks often assume he is a police officer and Pollak does not correct them.
For 12 years, he has voluntarily patrolled parks and crime-ridden neighborhoods. Pollak, 30, is a real-life superhero. He goes by “Dark Guardian.” And his life story somewhat resembles that of comic book superheroes, particularly Batman.
Like Batman, Pollak has no supernatural powers but he has exceptional martial arts skills. Like Batman, a cruel murder that had occurred during his childhood served as a catalyst for his devotion to justice.
Pollak grew up in Canarsie, Brooklyn. When he was 10, his best friend’s mother was robbed and shot in the head on her way home after work.
“I saw a lot of stuff and it definitely has a lasting effect,” Pollak said.
“People are apathetic toward crime because they deal with it every day,” he said. “That’s why we need more people who actively take a stand against it.”
Real Life Superheroes, a Movement
Like Spiderman, Pollak has a pretty girlfriend with flaming red hair.
“I don’t worry or find it shocking that he is a superhero,” said Stephanie Kirby, his girlfriend. “There are several of them in our circle of friends.”
In a day and age when mass shootings are on the rise, when people’s initial reaction to a violent scene is to record the moment on their phones rather than help, there is a countermovement to apathy.
There are hundreds of real-life superheroes nationwide, and a few in other countries, but their roles are not limited to fighting crime. Many don’t fight at all. They feed the homeless, clean up after the city, and do other Good Samaritan activities.
“I had a hot dog with a kid from Michigan who ended up homeless in New York City,” Pollak said. “I bought him a drink and a hot dog and just hung out with him. Sometimes it’s just about showing people that you care.”
Pollak can spend a hundred dollars at a time on supplies for the homeless. Over the years, he has spent thousands.
“Live your life being who you want to be,” he said. “I think a lot of people just sit back in their life and settle for things because they don’t think they can do more. I am a firm believer in the potential of each person.”
Pollak typically travels with one to six guys when patrolling, and they hang around areas such as Harlem, the Bronx, or Bed-Stuy, to post photos of wanted criminals. His bulky, tattooed arms include an image of the Japanese enso symbol, which represents strength and the universe.
It’s amazing that he has never been stabbed or shot at. “I have dealt with drug dealers in Washington Square Park … selling eight balls of coke as if it were nothing,” he said.
There was a time when he broke up a gang fight in Harlem.
“It’s come really, really close many times, but we’ve never been in a knife fight,” Pollak said, although he has learned knife fighting. He began training in martial arts at age 16. He has trained in various forms of martial arts, from mixed martial arts, kickboxing, to kempo.
But being a real life superhero is not necessarily about lifting boulders, jumping across buildings, and beating up bad guys. The main job of a real-life hero is to calm situations.
“It’s not about running into the middle of a fight,” he said. “De-escalation is what we do.”
Most nights are quiet. Here and there, he’ll bandage up a drunken man who had fallen on his head.
More often than not, he said, the hero is the guy who cleans up trash, removes graffiti, and buys food and water for the homeless.
“The hardest part of being a real-life superhero is that it’s done out of my free time and the money out of my own pocket,” he said. “Rather than going out and drinking with buddies, I’m going out patrolling the streets.”
But he wouldn’t give it up for anything. In fact, he’s starting a hero program for children.
The HERO Program
Although Pollak passed the NYPD entrance exam three years ago, he chose to turn down the position so that he could continue his day job as a martial arts instructor and instill a sense of courage in children.
He plans to launch a free HERO program on Staten Island by the end of July. Children as young as 4 can attend.
“The HERO program is about cultivating heroism in people,” he said.
Children will design their superhero masks and learn martial arts and life skills. The program will be at the LaSalle Mixed Martial Arts gym.
As Ernest Hemingway once said, “As you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.”
It’s sad for Pollak to know that there are still criminal activities happening at Washington Square Park, despite his time patrolling there.
“I did what I could, [yet] that stuff still goes on,” he said. “But I want to start with the kids, get it in their mind that they can make a difference. That’s what I hope for.”
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