Did you hear? A white guy in Texas punched an elderly black man in the jaw, so of course he gets charged with a hate crime, because he's white. White people are always the victims. Also: the perpetrator allegedly used a slur and talked about attacking a black guy.
Happily, the "knockout game" phenomenon is coasting on fumes at this point, given that it's 1) two months old and 2) not actually a real "trend." Thursday's announcement of federal hate crime charges injected a spark back into the idea, though, thanks to its cutting right to the chase: This is an issue of race.
The conservative Washington Times reports the new development, capturing a lot in one sentence. "Most knockout victims that have appeared in news reports have been white but the Justice Department said in this instance the victim was a 79-year-old black man, and stepped in with federal charges." The response to the story on Twitter, the Internet's comments section, gives you a taste of precisely what you'd expect, outrage at a white assailant getting charges while a black man wouldn't. The Washington Times' Emily Miller offered one of the more restrained responses: "So only white on black is hate?"
First, there are the specifics of Thursday's case. The Justice Department "said in this instance" the victim was an elderly black man because, in this instance, the victim was an elderly black man. And the attorney general stepped in with federal charges because the perpetrator of the attack, Conrad Alvin Barrett, videotaped both the punch (which broke the older man's jaw) and his motivation for it. That motivation was, allegedly, racial. The department's press release alleges that Barrett at one point "makes a racial slur." In another video, he is reported to have said, "The plan is to see if I were to hit a black person, would this be nationally televised?" After he hit the old man, Barrett is apparently heard yelling, "knockout!" in the video.
The Justice Department addresses the idea of this as a fad: "According to the complaint, the conduct has been called by other names and there have been similar incidents dating as far back as 1992." This isn't a 2013 thing where black people pick out white people to be punched. It's a two-decade-old rarity that suddenly became a media sensation.
Let's go back to the Times' s Emily Miller. In November, Amrit Marajh was charged with a hate crime after punching a Jewish man in Brooklyn. Marajh is a person of color; his victim, white. The Washington Times covered it — the paper has written on the topic hundreds of times — but the Marajh story didn't do nearly as well as today's article.
Of course it didn't. When the Times suggests that most "victims that have appeared in news reports" are white, they're tipping their hand. Most coverage of the attacks has been driven by conservative outlets like the Times, which have not been shy about suggesting a racial disparity. We wrote about World Net Daily's efforts to that end earlier this month. The attacks are always about race in media coverage because the alleged racial targeting of whites by blacks is the only reason people care about the attacks. It's not necessarily a conscious filtering, but it is a filter that is applied.
The other recently popular knockout attack was a video usually given a title like "Knockout Game Goes Terribly Wrong." That's what BeforeItsNews called it, grabbing the video from WorldStarHipHop. In that video, a black man approaches a woman, who somehow — the tape gets blurry — gets the attacker on the ground and starts hitting him. Another man comes running in and kicks the alleged assailant. This video made it onto essentially every conservative outlet, as AboveTopSecret points out, all of which use the same frame for the story: black guy gets what's coming. At last, a victory for the white team in this "knockout game" thing. (See Reddit's comments, if you dare.)
But! In a correction, Glenn Beck's The Blaze adds a key detail: "Las Vegas Police Department spokesman Larry Hadfield told The Blaze Monday it appears the involved individuals had contact with each other before." This isn't a random attack, if it was even an attack at all. It's dumb jerks being dumb jerks as dumb jerks have done for time immemorial. But by adding it into the "knockout game" genre — obviously incorrectly — and by picturing a white person fighting back against a black assailant, it got huge web traffic.
The weird thing about the Barrett attack — one of thousands of random attacks involving people of various races — is that it likely wouldn't have happened without the media making "the knockout game" into an official sensation. Barrett allegedly wanted to see what happened when a white guy hit a black guy in the knockout game, because he hadn't seen those covered by the media. Now he knows what would happen. And some of the same people that helped create the knockout game are, however indirectly, rising to his defense. He's a victim, too.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.