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The "knockout game" is one of many names given by American news media to assaults in which, purportedly, one or more assailants attempt to knock out an unsuspecting victim, often with a single sucker punch, all for the amusement of the attackers and their accomplices. Other names given to assaults of this type include "knockout", "knockout king", "point 'em out, knock 'em out", "bomb", and "polar-bearing" or "polar-bear hunting" (allegedly called such when the victim is white). Serious injuries and even deaths have been attributed to the "knockout game". Some news sources report that there has been an escalation of such attacks in late 2013, and in some cases the attack has been charged as a hate crime, while some politicians have been seeking new targeted legislation specifically against it. However, other media analysts have cast doubt on this and have labeled the trend, although not the attacks themselves, a myth or an example of a panic, both with racist undertones. Liberal analysts claim that their conservative counterparts falsely promote a view that the "knockout game" trend is real and conservative analysts claim that the liberal media does not report on it due to the racial implications it may have.
In September 1992, Norwegian exchange student Yngve Raustein was killed by three teenagers who, according to Cambridge, Massachusetts, prosecutors, were playing a game called "knockout". Local teens said that the object was to render an unsuspecting target unconscious with a single punch, and if the assailant did not succeed, his companions turned on him instead.
In 2005 in the United Kingdom, BBC News reported on the happy slapping incidents, where the attack is filmed for the purpose of sharing online. The French government responded to this trend by making it against the law to film any acts of violence and post them on the Internet, with a spokesperson for then President Nicolas Sarkozy saying the law was indeed directed at "happy slapping".
Three teens were arrested in Decatur, Illinois, in September 2009 and charged in the killing of a bicyclist, 61, who was stomped to death, and the attempted murder of another man, 46, who was also attacked and stomped. It was claimed that the teens were playing "point 'em out, knock 'em out" where a person is selected and a group of attackers decide to render the victim unconscious.
In June 2009, a 29-year-old man was beaten in a Columbia, Missouri, parking garage by a group of teens who told police that they were playing a game called "Knockout King" where they find an unsuspecting person and knock them out with a single punch.
In April 2011, Hoang Nguyen, 72, died in St. Louis, Missouri, after he was attacked in what was described by a local CBS station as "part of the so called 'knock out game'." Nguyen's wife, Yen, 62, was injured. After trial, the assailant Elex Murphy, 18 at the time of the assault, was sentenced to life in prison plus 25 years.
In July 2012, 62-year-old Delfino Mora was attacked by three teens and killed in West Rogers Park, Chicago. Anthony Malcolm, who recorded the attack on his cell phone (the video was seen on Facebook), was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Two other teens were awaiting trial in September 2013. The attack was said to be part of a game called "pick 'em out, knock 'em out."
In 2013, a series of these attacks resulted in the death of the victims, all with some sort of game as a precipitating factor to the attack. Michael Daniels, 51, of Syracuse, New York, died a day after being attacked in May 2013, with the "knockout game" later mentioned in regards to his death.
In Bolton, Lancashire, Eden Lomax, a 17-year old young man, murdered 43-year-old Simon Mitchell in an attack he referred to as a "bomb"; in the investigation it was discovered Lomax had performed other non-fatal "bomb" attacks in the days leading up to the murder.
Yale Daily News reported seven attacks during November 2013 in New Haven, Connecticut that could be associated with the knockout game. Yale University's chief of police wrote an email to the campus community pertaining to the issue on November 21.
In the United States, The New York Times noted "a growing log of reports of such crimes in the Northeast and beyond". A number of news stories in late November 2013 covered incidents in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where a series of attacks took place, during October and November 2013. As a result the NYPD responded by stepping up patrols in certain neighborhoods.
On November 24, 2013, in Katy, Texas, an elderly African-American man was attacked and hospitalized. Two weeks later, Conrad Alvin Barrett was arrested after allegedly showing an off-duty police officer a video he recorded with his cellphone of himself perpetrating the attack, explicitly referencing "knockout". Investigators revealed that there were other videos on his phone where he uses racial epithets and a video where he questions if he were to attack a black man in a knockout game attack would the story receive media attention. The Justice Department subsequently charged Barrett with a hate crime, for which he could receive 10 years in federal prison. Barrett's attorney claims his client suffers from bipolar disorder and was not on medication at the time of the attack.
In the coverage of the attacks in 2013, some political commentators have focused on racial factors, alleging that the crimes are being committed primarily by African American youth and criticizing the media for ignoring the alleged racial nature of these attacks. Bill O'Reilly of the Fox News Channel described the "Knockout" attacks as "another example of young black Americans committing senseless crimes" and expressed disappointment, "they are getting precious little attention" in the media. In response to several reported attacks in 2013, Al Sharpton released a piece called Knockout Games -- The Biggest Form of Cowardice condemned the attacks, as he noted the black community would not be silent if they were the victims.
Jeffrey Butts, the director of John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Research and Evaluation Center at the City University of New York (CUNY), was quoted by the New York Times that "There's an element to who wants to see this through the lens of race" and that the fear stems from racial roots. Emma Roller for Slate and Jamelle Bouie for The Daily Beast also remarked on the reported race of the attackers and victims; with others critical of the existence of the trend also pointing out that the aspect of race appears to be hyped by bloggers who want to highlight attacks on whites by black suspects.
Several attacks on Jewish victims in Brooklyn in 2013 have been called antisemitic hate crimes. ABC Nightline reported that New York City police believed that antisemitism was likely to be a motive in the attacks, as all eight victims were identified as Jewish. Jewish community leaders in Brooklyn have spoken out on the subject, and the Anti Defamation League regional office issued a public statement on Knockout attacks "targeting Jewish individuals in Brooklyn". Amrit Marajh, a 28-year-old suspect in an attack that took place in Brooklyn, was charged with a hate crime as his victim was Jewish, which has potential to greatly increase consequences over a charge of simple assault. Marajh has claimed innocence and denied the claims of antisemitism.
On December 3, newly elected New York City councilwoman Laurie Cumbo added a letter to her Facebook page, saying,"The accomplishments of the Jewish community triggers feelings of resentment, and a sense that Jewish success is not also their success." The Anti-Defamation League said her post was "troubling" and that it evoked "classic anti-Semitic stereotypes." Cumbo later apologised for her remarks. NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly later stated that he was avoiding referring to the attacks as part of any sort of trend to avoid further copycat attacks and has instead been labeling them as hate crimes.
On November 21, 2013 Republican New York State assemblyman Jim Tedisco put forward legislation called the "Knockout Assault Deterrent Act" explicitly referencing "knockout" in order to charge juvenile offenders in these type of attacks as adults, legislation would also punish those who were found recording the attacks. Republican State Senator Hugh Farley supports legislation that would make assailants linked to the "knockout game" liable for harsher sentences, would try juvenile offenders as adults, and would make accomplices criminally responsible. Democratic assemblyman John McDonald, while admitting he feels stiffer penalties were warranted, said, however, that Tedisco's bill was not necessary. Republican Wisconsin State Assemblyman Dean Kaufert also considered drafting a bill to deter attacks.
Leaders from the African-American community also made statements, City Councilman Charles Barron saying that the root of the problem was a need for jobs to keep young people out of trouble; he also suggested additional funding for community patrols to act as lookouts. Representative Hakeem Jeffries said at a Crown Heights Youth Collective conference that attacks based on race will not be tolerated and that they will do everything in their power to see justice is done. Brooklyn District Attorney-elect Kenneth P. Thompson also called out the attacks, saying that "there is no status to be gained" for knocking out an unsuspecting victim and such violence will not be tolerated. Brooklyn Borough President-elect Eric Adams affirmed Thompson's statement, saying "play this game, and you will lose". Councilmember-elect Laurie Cumbo added that people's lives will never be the same as a result, victims and suspects both, as she stated that attackers would be "prosecuted to the full extent of the law".
Other notable New York City community members who have spoken out against the attacks include Reverend Al Sharpton and Dov Hikind. Al Sharpton, Russell Simmons, Foundation for Ethnic Understanding founder Rabbi Marc Schneier, former NYC mayor David Dinkins and former New Orleans mayor and current National Urban League president Marc Morial released a video in December 2013 saying "No to K.O." Retired Brooklyn born boxer Mike Tyson has also spoken against the attacks on The Piers Morgan Show.
The existence of a growing trend of knockout attacks has been questioned; claims about the prevalence of the phenomenon have been called an "urban myth" and a "type of panic." Some media reports have specified that knockout attacks are "played" as a violent game. However, the "game" aspect is of questionable status; claims concerning attacks range from urban myths, random unprovoked acts of aggression to an actual "game".
A June 2011 investigative report by John Tucker of the Riverfront Times following the death of Hoang Nguyen in 2011 saw many related attacks, all attributed to the "Knockout King" game. St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Daniel Isom stated that a year prior the police determined that the knockout game is played by a group of children who go around trying to knock random people unconscious, the police estimated the activity was not widespread and limited to five or nine teens. In Tucker's interviews with local teens they believed the number to be much higher; one 18-year old estimated 10-15% of his peers played the game. A St. Louis area barber said that in his youth the phenomenon was not called "Knockout King" but "One Hitter Quitter". Mike Males of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice who also runs YouthFacts.org noted that the media has been cherry-picking related attacks for sensationalism concluding, "This knockout-game legend is a fake trend." Police at the time, believed such attacks might have been underreported by immigrant victims from countries where the police were not trustworthy.
An attack from 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was tentatively linked to more recent attacks, although it was never identified as part of any "game". Police in Syracuse, New York, reported that one assailant in a fatal attack admitted to its being "knockout", with a police sergeant noting that the assaults he was investigating were definitely "for a game" rather than being attempted murders or robberies. On November 23, 2013, The New York Times reported that police officials in New York City were considering their position on the "game" and were wondering if they should advise the public, but had to contend with the uncertain existence of the game. Police in New York City questioned whether they were faced with a trend or simply a series of isolated incidents. New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly refused to refer to the attacks in Brooklyn as the "knockout game" to avoid possible copycat attacks.
Several assaults associated with the "knockout game" do not follow any particular pattern; in several instances a single assailant attempted a one-punch attack, while in others multiple assailants participated in a gang attack. The "Knockout King" death of Nguyen in St. Louis was such a gang attack, and an alleged trend in Lansing, Michigan, called "point 'em out, knock 'em out" involved the use of a Taser.
Many officials have outright refused to refer to the assaults as a "game", with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter explicitly stating he did not want to give the idea any credibility while at a press conference after an attack at a Philadelphia pizzeria where the suspects never mentioned the game following the event. In a CNN interview with Don Lemon, Nutter stated he was not sure if the knockout game is real or not, adding he less concerned about the name but saying the incidents are of "great concern" and worries about a trend of copycat incidents. Nutter would not answer if the attacks are racially motivated and stated that Philadelphia has no confirmed "game" incidents. Earlier, Philadelphia Police spokeswoman Tanya Little determined a November 11 attack as part of a knockout game.
Emma Roller of Slate compared the reporting of the "knockout game" to the reporting of attacks at the 2011 Wisconsin State Fair by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that stated "dozens to hundreds of black youths attacked white people"; she called into question the inconsistency with the numbers and felt that the race of the attackers was likely misreported as well. Roller also stated that conservative media outlets seem to report on such attacks annually, with an assault in Virginia in 2012 receiving similar treatment to the Milwaukee attacks and the current "knockout game". While she notes that the "game" exists, and has for several years, she states it has not reached the "epidemic levels" media outlets have said it has. She also cited Alan Noble of Patheos and his criticism of using YouTube videos as evidence for the game. Both were critical of White Girl Bleed a Lot author Colin Flaherty and his reporting of what he saw as a trend, which both saw as Flaherty simply finding any instance of an attack where the victim was white and the suspect was black.
Jamelle Bouie of The Daily Beast was also critical of the game's existence as a trend, comparing its existence to the "wilding" assault allegedly at hand in the Central Park jogger case and the often reported headlight flashing urban legend. While he did not deny that several people were attacked and several had died, he pointed out that attacks were not really rare, noting the FBI had reported that there were 127,577 unarmed assaults in 2012. Picking out a handful from that does not make it a trend, nor does a bunch of kids saying they were playing the "knockout game". Bouie was also critical of the racial connotations, stating that in every attack purported to be the "knockout game" the assailants were young black men and the victims white.
Jesse Singal of the Columbia Journalism Review noted that several of the news reports on the knockout game featured videos taken from the Internet without any contextual evidence that the attacks were possibly related to the knockout game. Many videos began with the victim already facing their assailant, rather than the videos depicting the victim being blindsided by a random attack. He also found one example where the attack did not take place in the United States nor was the assailant a teenager following a viral trend; rather the video depicted an attack in East London by a 35-year-old man who may have had substance abuse problems or mental illnesses. When Singal approached several local news stations, a representative from an NBC affiliate responded saying that the footage had been taken from a shared pool of stock footage that other NBC stations in the area were given, and generally if footage is found to be inaccurate there would be a digital note concerning it. The note was absent in the case of the London video for reasons unknown. Singal's investigation led him to believe that people around the country are being told a story that has not been properly researched.
Chris Hayes host of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes gave the knockout game his first annual "Over-Covered Stories Of The Year" award, this was mainly due to excess coverage by Fox News, saying “You get a sense of the racial politics and subtext well not even subtext... text."
The assault perpetrated by Barrett has also caused some questioning in reporting. AWR Hawkins writing for Breitbart.com believed that the reporting of the white-on-black crime and the federal authorities' response only highlighted the belief that the alleged trend of black-on-white attacks was underreported by "mainstream media". Robin Abcarian for the Los Angeles Times criticized this reporting style by a conservative analyst, saying that blame was shifted onto the federal government. Abcarian also noted that Barrett explicitly stated he was seeking a black victim, and postulated that he may hae been acting on this "lazy narrative that black teens were randomly attacking white people". She also criticized the statement by Rev. Sharpton and the conservative news sources who began supporting him after decades of opposition. Tommy Christopher writing for Mediaite made note of Fox News' James Rosen's report on the attack being misleading, noting claims made by Rosen that it is the first such attack to be charged as a hate crime, when it is simply the first under federal statute, noting the arrest of Amrit Marajh in Brooklyn and the investigation of the assault on Taj Patterson, who claims he was assaulted by a group of Orthodox Jewish men. Abcarian also criticized the reporting of this attack as possibly being related to the knockout game trend, as the alleged attackers sought out Patterson because he was gay rather than because he was black. She also brought up a case of a fabrication of a "knockout"-style attack, after the victim and her boyfriend revealed she had lied that she was attacked at random by a stranger and instead he had struck her, noting that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did not report the initial attack as a "knockout game" attack. Abcarian also noted that the 2011 attack by the now 16-year-old Dajour Washington on 51-year-old James Addlesburger was being used for sensationalism. The video of the assault was being shown by Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, to which Addlesburger felt he was being exploited and manipulated to fan racial hatred. Washington, who spent 9 months in juvenile detention for the attack, appeared on Nightline in 2013 and revealed that he had not attacked Addlesburger because he was white but rather because he was the only man present and that at the time of the attack he had never heard of the "knockout game".