More than a million people have come to know him, though most have never seen his face.
You may have seen his crime fighting videos — which have gone viral — but even then, you only hear his voice and see his right hand. Often clutching a Taser.
Meet Darien Long, onsite manager of the Metro Mall, a tiny indoor shopping center in downtown Atlanta near Five Points. In a world where the Internet can make stars out of no-talent hacks, Long has become a cult figure thanks to a series of videos that show his steadfast defense of the mall from drug dealers, thieves and just people who annoy him.
The most talked-about clip is a brutal confrontation that pitted Long against two women and their children, who verbally and ultimately physically attack him, before he tased one of the women, setting off a chaotic scene. Since that video was posted Jan. 28 on Worldstarhiphop.com, it has garnered more than 1.4 million views and thousands of comments.
An online drive to raise money to buy him better equipment has garnered more than $20,000 in pledges.
“I’m getting my 15 minutes of fame by accident. I’m nothing special,” Long said. “People are trying to make me a super hero, but I am not.”
Others think otherwise. Patrolling the mall recently, Long was approached by downtown resident Chris Brown.
“Are you the guy from the video?” Brown asked. “I just wanted to come shake your hand. You did the right thing and I am 100 percent behind you.”
Metro Mall is located in the heart of Five Points, shouting distance from federal buildings, the Georgia State Capitol, Atlanta City Hall and the Fulton County Courts.
Yet, the area tingles with crime and vice. Prostitutes roam freely and drug dealers ply their trade in broad daylight, while lawyers and government workers go to work and college students try to get to class.
Welcome to Long’s world, which is not without risk. Among the thousands of online comments praising him on social media are also ominous warnings about his safety.
“My mother is afraid one of these fools is gonna shoot me in the back,” Long said. “A lot of people think I need more protection. They are probably right.”
Who is he?
At 5 feet 10 and 200 pounds, Long is not necessarily intimidating at first glance.
He lives with his mother and wears glasses, albeit cool sports goggles. He dresses in blue jeans, boots and a light black turtleneck under a black shirt. He carries a gun, handcuffs and a flashlight. He wears a bullet-proof vest equipped with a camera and a pocket to hold his Taser.
Long, 45, was born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., where he attended Buffalo State University, working as a disc jockey for two years before dropping out. He served two years in the U.S. Army as a communications technician.
He moved to Atlanta in 1999 where his path has not always been a straight one. He lived with a cousin for a while, then at the Clermont Hotel, before settling into a homeless shelter. He worked as a courier, cashier, factory worker and salesman, before stumbling into security work.
According to public records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Long has also been arrested at least four times for traffic violations, ranging from speeding to driving without insurance. The arrests cost him 80 days in jail.
“I am by no means perfect,” Long said. “I have many flaws.”
But he seems suited to his work. He was hired as a security officer at the mall a year ago, after the last two armed guards were chased off.
“When I spoke to the manager, I said, ‘I am not going to manage your problem,’” Long said. “I told him I would solve his problem.”
Long said when he arrived at the mall, where a dozen vendors sell everything from knock-off clothes to hair weaves, it was teeming with drug dealers, prostitutes and hustlers selling stolen merchandise.
Francisca Shokane, who owns a hair salon in the mall, said her customers were often terrified by the criminal element.
“Before they hired Darien, they used to rob our customers and snatch pursues. Then when you would follow them, they would say they were going to come back and shoot you,” Shokane said. “Now it is much better and safer. They don’t come in here and bother us anymore.”
Shokane feels so good about the mall now that she plans on opening a restaurant there in two weeks.
When he is standing outside the mall, it is obvious that Long has made a difference. It is clear of loiterers, unlike other nearby store fronts.
“We complain and we call 911,” said downtown resident Stuart Jackson. “They keep promising cameras and foot patrols, but within a few weeks, it goes away. Then when the next official comes in, it starts all over again. And nothing happens.”
Crime statistics have improved. In 2011, on the beat where the mall is located, there were 351 major felony crimes reported. That number dropped to 260 in 2012.
“(APD) recognizes that there are crime and quality of life issues in this sector that are being addressed as we speak,” said Carlos Campos, a spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department. “We have conducted several details in recent months specific to the Peachtree/Five Points corridor and assigned officers to patrol on foot and on bike to reduce crime.”
On his cellphone, Long has collected mug shots of more than 100 criminals who he knows by name and he isn’t afraid to call them out. He points out one who, he said, had spit in his face. He calls out to another and runs down his rap sheet. The man doesn’t say anything, but gives Long two middle fingers.
“They have a sense of entitlement,” Long said. “They tried to use intimidation, but they ran into the wrong person.”
Long has amassed more than 1.5 terabytes of raw video of incidents at the mall, many of which he hasn’t bothered to edit. He created a Facebook page, “Atlanta Downtown Criminal Culture,” to post some of them, but nothing ever stood out.
Then he shared the Taser video with downtown resident Vanessa Raye, who posted it on Youtube and sent it to five people.
“It was never my intention to make this video go viral,” said Raye, adding that Worldstarhiphop, which specializes in celebrity videos and random footage of people doing stupid things, picked it up and labeled it “Hood Mothers In ATL Get Tased By Security Guard For Acting Up In Front Of Children!”
Looking at the five-minute video, which was shot last May, it is easy to see why it went viral. It is funny. It is sad. It is coarse. At times, it is pathetic. But it is a somber reminder of what many in downtown deal with daily.
It opens with the two women arguing with Long, who is trying to keep them from coming back into the mall.
They get in his face as he tells them to “back up.” Several toddlers with the women shout slurs, while the mothers continue to taunt him. The kids eventually walk back into the mall. One of the mothers, identified as Chequita Simone Stephens, follows and begins to fight Long. He pushes her away, then hits Stephens with 50,000 volts of electricity.
She goes stiff as a board and falls to the sidewalk. The kids start crying. Stephens recovers and begs for an ambulance while a threatening mob gathers.
“She decided that she wanted to put her hands on me,” Long said. “This time, I wasn’t feeling her. So I tased her.”
Tasers are legal for public use in Georgia and state laws do not expressly mention them as a weapons, although they are banned from school grounds.
Stephens, who could not be reached for comment, was arrested and charged with trespassing and contributing to the delinquency of minors.
Joram Sachida was so impressed with Long’s action that he started a donations page on Crowdtilt.com, which had raised $23,678 as of Friday night for Long’s equipment.
Long, who has never been sued, said he would use the funds to get a paralegal certificate and buy better equipment.
“I am always concerned about my safety, but not so concerned that I won’t act,” Long said. “I signed up and I do the job. If I don’t do my job, what I am here for?”
On Friday, shortly after noon, Long emailed that he had gotten into another confrontation with someone else at the mall.
Yes, he tased him.
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