BETWEEN THE LINES: There has been a succession of media reports over the last few weeks about pedestrians being sucker-punched by a single attacker or one among a group of passing youngsters. The series of episodes reported in New York and several other states are being carelessly referred to as “the knockout game.”
How the media can collectively — and blithely — keep referring to these sporadic attacks as “the knockout game” is absurd. Whether or not the youths responsible and law enforcement apply that reference is one thing, but for the media to repeatedly use the trendy vernacular is appalling and unnecessary, as it subtly glorifies that sort of violence.
Regardless of its origin, and no matter what these random acts are called, the term “knockout game” is utterly incompatible with what is a crime, not a game, particularly when there have been at least two deaths, according to ABC News, linked to these assaults.
The assaults typically target unsuspecting victims with the intention of knocking them out with a single punch. Not a single victim was robbed or provoked their assailant. Therefore, the only clear-cut motive seems to be amusement.
Have movie and video game violence or brutal gang initiations gotten so monotonous that this is what some youths now resort to in order to get their kicks?
What’s next, a “knockout game” app so anyone can effortlessly access techniques to pull them off?
For whatever reason, the “game” seems to be occurring with more frequency lately, with at least 10 incidents reported in Brooklyn, including one in East New York on Friday. She was the second black victim from that neighborhood last week.
At a rally in East New York last Friday, shortly before the 72-year-old was reportedly attacked, community activist Tony Herbert said they are asking social media outlets not to show images from these attacks.
“The one thing we do denounce is the opportunity of folks to use social media to proliferate this kind of stupidity,” he said.
In an attack last Monday, believed to be connected to these assaults, a 72-year-old Starrett City woman with a walker was punched in the face by a man described as being in his early 20s who fled the scene.
Rabbi Avrohom Hecht, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Canarsie, noted on his Facebook page the next day, “…It takes a coward to hit a woman with a walker.”
Earlier this month in Crown Heights, a youth fled after he reportedly punched a 78-year-old grandmother in the head and knocked her to the ground. There have also been incidents linked to similar unconscionable attacks in Midwood and Borough Park.
For those who may recall, the current attacks, albeit on a smaller scale, bear a striking similarity to “wilding” events from several decades ago. In those attacks, a group of about 30 rampaging teenagers, also referred to as “wolf packs” in the media, assaulted and robbed victims in Central Park, on subways and streets and in restaurants. Police at the time said the term “wilding” was coined by some of the youths they subsequently arrested.
After an Internet search, every so-called “knockout game” episode has been committed by a black youth, mostly against white victims, though Asians, Hispanics, and now two black women have also reportedly been victimized. The racial factor has more substance in Detroit, as similar out-of-control behavior has been referred to as “polar bear hunting.”
Before these incidents created a wider rift between New York’s black and white communities, several black leaders swiftly denounced them at a November 25th press conference.
The New York Post reported that Reverend Al Sharpton condemned the assaults two days earlier.
“This kind of behavior is deplorable and must be condemned by all us,” he said. “We would not be silent if it was the other way around. We cannot be silent or in any way reluctant to confront it when it is coming from our own community.”
In contrast, when outgoing City Councilman Charles Barron joined several East New York activists last Wednesday to condemn the attacks he went too far in assessing responsibility. In a News12 Brooklyn report, Barron said it is “the lack of jobs for these young people” that is the root of the problem, and jobs would help keep them out of trouble. Perhaps time spent looking for or preparing for potential employment is more practical, rather than roaming the streets looking for victims to knock out.
How can Barron think such activity enhances a resume? Or, that these youngsters having nothing better to do with their idle time is a convincing justification for committing a violent crime?
Regardless of the rabble-rousing activist’s misguided rationalization, the reckless youths committing these acts are just as likely to be the same types who carry out similar or worse crimes that make life in their own communities so frightful.
The lame duck councilman would be better off sending a message to those goons that they’re making life worse for the majority of young black men who never commit crimes, yet may be profiled walking down the street and accused of breaking the law even more than they already are.
If the thugs engaging in this cruel activity enjoy knocking someone out, perhaps they should visit a local gym and step into the ring to spar with some amateur boxer to feel what it’s like to suddenly be knocked on their ass.
But then, the youths committing such acts in the streets probably don’t have the guts to face a peer who could flatten them with a single sucker-blow.
While randomly punching someone casually walking along a street may be a “game” to young men bowing to peer pressure, or imitating comparable violent acts, the victims, as well as attackers, who prey on the weak, are all losers. Without a precise winner, it is definitely not amusement and, accordingly, in the rush to label such crimes, all media should be more responsible and cease from labeling these brazen acts a game.
Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.
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