Saturday, November 23, 2013

On "The Knockout Game"

Thursday morning, I caught a story on CBS This Morning that was really disturbing.

It seems there is a new “game” being played by roaming gangs of inner-city teens.  CBS claims it’s called “the Knockout Game.”  The object of the game is to assault a random stranger on the street with one disabling punch.  If you knock that person out cold with one blow, you win.

CBS even showed surveillance camera video of teens in the act of delivering these punches.  A group of three or four kids is walking down the sidewalk, one breaks out of the formation, makes for a passing stranger and lets him (or her) have it.  The stranger goes down like a felled tree, and the little posse of kids just keeps walking.  A disturbing demonstration of truly frightening random violence.

The New York Times published a related piece today, in which the reporter disputed whether this phenomenon is actually as widespread as the CBS piece suggested, and even whether it is indeed an acknowledged “game.”  Seems law enforcement is reluctant to call it so.  I can see why.  Once it is labeled a game, will it sweep the nation via social media in the manner of the “choking game"--so popular among young teens across the country that it was once estimated that 6% of teens across the US had tried it? 

One can imagine a certain amount of reluctance in the hearts of police agencies to spread another such randomly destructive fad—this one manifesting itself as danger to unsuspecting strangers on the street rather than to the teens themselves.  Does the "knockout game" exist?  the police are asked.   Maybe.  Maybe not. We haven’t noticed teens talking it up on social media.  No one has come forward to give us details.

But still…there is this growing incidence of  one-punch assaults by teens—on men, women, young, old…some of which have proven fatal.

My first reaction to this story was, “Oh my god!  What is wrong with these children?  How can they be so randomly violent?  Why are they so angry?  What degree of rage could they possibly have experienced in their young lives that would turn them into sociopathic thugs before they turned 16?”

In the mind of this 50-something white suburban lady who has led a pretty damned sheltered life, this gets chalked up to drugs and gangs and the violent culture of blacks in the inner city.  It reinforces old stereotypes of black kids and bad neighborhoods and places you have never been and are now feeling pretty sure you will never go.  It destroys hope that there is a way out for these kids;  affirms that “their” culture is just too poisoned with hatred and violence for them to be saved.

But then, this 50-something white suburban lady experienced a sort of epiphany.  It occurred to me that maybe young blacks DO have a reason to be angry.  Maybe when "we" rail against their violent tendencies, it’s a prime example of the pot calling the kettle black.

What kind of kids would randomly assault strangers on the street?  I don’t know.

But what kind of society would allow a white man to confront an unarmed black teenager on a dark street in the middle of the night, beat the kid up, shoot him dead, and be convicted of no crime? 

What kind of society would take two weeks to make a case against a white man who shoots and kills an unarmed young black woman on his front porch?

To me, any outrage we expend in the direction of “the Knockout Game” sounds as disingenuous as the cries of “Why do they hate us?” wailed in the aftermath of 9/11. 

Really?  Why are they angry?  With images of Trayvon Martin and RenishaMcBride swimming around us, it’s a wonder we can even ask that question.

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