From Super-Predators to the 'Knockout Game'

Looking into a trend that isn't

The Times looks into the latest "trend" in which young black boys try to knock a random person out with one punch. What they find is unsurprising:

And in New York City, police officials are struggling to determine whether they should advise the public to take precautions against the Knockout Game — or whether in fact it existed.

“We’re trying to determine whether or not this is a real phenomenon,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said on Friday. “I mean, yes, something like this can happen. But we would like to have people come forward and give us any information they have.”

The Times looked into one of the more prominent incidents:

Much news coverage of reported knockout attacks includes 2012 footage from a surveillance camera in Pittsburgh of James Addlespurger, a high school teacher who was 50, being swiftly struck to the ground by a young man walking down an alleyway with some friends. Yet the Pittsburgh police said the attacker insisted the assault was not part of any organized “game.”

“This was just a random act of violence,” Police Commander Eric Holmes said in a televised interview last year. “He stated that he was just having a bad day that day.” The assailant saw Mr. Addlespurger, the commander said, “and decided this was a course of action he was going to take.”

Telecasts have also shown teenagers in Jersey City, their faces blurred, describing knockouts, which they defined as anyone might; someone is struck and knocked out. But they did not report that it was a game.

Bob McHugh, a police spokesman in Jersey City, said there had not been a single reported knockout incident there.

“If there ever was an urban myth, this was it,” he said. Still community concerns spurred by the video prompted a member of the City Council there, Candice Osborne, to post on her Facebook page, “there have been NO reported instances of this type of assault.”

This is not like finding a dime-bag in someone's pocket, or even catching someone with a vial of crack. People who assault other people for amusement should be prosecuted. Understanding this, it's also worth pointing out that, in terms of long-term trends, we are in the midst of a historic dip

But since the days of slavery, into the days of super-predators, and now the time of the Knockout Game, there has always been a strong need to believe that hordes of young black men will overrun the country in a fit of raping and pillaging. It's how we justify ourselves. Information can't compete with national myth.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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