Knockout game: Videos of the teen attacks go viral; the crime’s not viral

Knockout game: A violent teen prank – seen in videos, but probably still an isolated trend – highlights the need to establish strong connections between young people and their community.

Mark Lennihan/AP
Knockout game: There have been several incidents of teenagers assaulting random passersby in Brooklyn, shown here, and other cities around the country. Police suspect that the assaults are part of a knockout game that has popped up in several cities around the country.

As the Knockout Game resurfaces in the news yet again with teens randomly selecting adult victims to punch in the head and render unconscious in an ambush "game," it’s time to engage innercity teens, rather than give in to panic, vilifying them across the board.

Here’s an example of how an incident can be magnified beyond it's real dimensions to stir panic, hate, and terror that is both longlasting and widespread.

The “Knockout King” or “Knockout Game” has been playing out for more than a decade on streets in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Chicago, St. Louis, and now Washington D.C. in small numbers. But videos of the incidents have gone viral on the Internet, creating the illusion these things happen more often than they do. 

“There is no evidence supporting this as a huge, viral number of attacks. If the ‘Knockout Game’ really exists and isn’t just a media label that could fit many of the hundreds of thousands of random attacks on strangers,” says Mike Males, senior researcher for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice located in San Francisco. I’ve heard of incidents of this so-called Knockout Game dating back to 1996. It’s not new.”

“What is important to realize is this tiny ‘Knockout’ pattern is part of a stronger pattern of random violence against strangers in this country,” adds Mr. Males.

Two women were separately assaulted in Washington last week on Nov. 14 and 15. Police are calling both attacks simple assaults and have not indicated that they were realted to the knockout game. [Editor's note: A previous version of this story inaccurately reported the dates of the Washington attacks.]

"He just like threw a hook with his left hand, and just got me right in the face," Ms. Connolly told ABC 7. "And he said 'wa-pow' as he hit me in the face."

Back in December of 2011 the Associated Press reported the game was expanding its territory and that attackers were both male and female teens, some attackers as young as age 12.

“The rules of the game are as simple as they are brutal,” The AP reported. “Unlike typical gang violence or other street crime, the goal is not revenge, nor is it robbery. The victim is chosen at random, often a person unlikely to put up a fight. Many of the victims have been elderly. Most were alone.”

I think it may be time to take a hard look at how we engage, or disengage, teens when this kind of antisocial and violent behavior takes root in our communities.

“Cities with high populations of teens with good community engagement traditionally have much less teen crime,” Males says. “Conversely, cities like St. Louis have been cited as an epicenter for the so-called Knockout Game and that city has a very high youth poverty rate with very poor teen engagement.”

Males says the place to begin our defense against Knockout and other random acts of violence by teens is by starting with “troubled families” and also with teens individually to teach empathy.

By making innercity teens and their families part of the solution rather than casting them as part of the problem, we can empower youth to take pride in their communities and contribute to the safety of their neighborhoods.

Having spent the past six years engaging at-risk youth in their communities via teaching them and their families chess, creating unity in the community with mentors from the police department, the sheriff’s office, and local university mentors I can tell you this is the way to go.

It doesn’t have to be chess. Here in Norfolk, Virginia we are starting a free Lego club at the local Maker Space where people are donating old Lego sets and volunteers are going to help kids from troubled families in the inner city build themselves into the broader community via technology and toys.

The hope is that building together will build community. If the problem is that teens are randomly attacking strangers, then we need to introduce them to their neighbors and make them friends.  

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