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While social ills continue to plague American society, the manifestations thereof among black American youths never cease to sadden. The latest examples are daunting. In several cities around the nation, the release of Nike’s Air Jordans, a pair of sneakers that retail for $180, precipitated a series of fights, vandalism, riots and arrests. Even more daunting? A “game” called “Knockout King,” where gangs of black youths surround a random victim, punch him to the ground, film the attacks and post them on social network sites.
First the sneakers. In suburban Seattle, police were forced to pepper spray youths who started fighting at the Westfield Southcenter mall. A crowd of more than 1000 were subjected to fights, resulting in several people getting cuts and bruises. Two doors were broken down. In Jersey City, a man was stabbed when a brawl broke out among those waiting in line. In Taylor, Michigan, more than 100 people broke into a shopping center at 5:30 a.m. Decorations were damaged and benches were overturned. Three people were arrested in Toledo, Ohio when a crowd once again surged uncontrolled into a mall.
Four more people were arrested in Lithonia, Georgia, where another door was broken down. In Charlotte, NC, dozens of police were called in to break up fights at Carolina Place Mall just after 5 a.m., and at Northlake Mall an hour and a half later. There shoppers forced mall doors open by removing sliders from their hinges. “At 6:30, they were like, that’s it, we’re going to bust the doors down, they busted the doors down, everybody was falling and running, shoes everywhere,” one witness said. At the Boyton Beach Mall in Florida, two people were arrested for inciting a riot and resisting arrest. A mob of 400-500 people became so unruly, police were again forced to use pepper spray when the crowd ignored repeated commands to stop pushing and fighting.
Yet as unsettling as these incidents were, they pale in comparison to Knockout King. This is a game in which a group of youths, some as young as twelve, choose a lead attacker, and then go in search of a random victim, one they consider unlikely to put up a fight. The lead attacker starts punching away. If the victim is “lucky” and goes down quickly, the group may scatter. If not, they often join in, punching and kicking the victim until he is unconscious or badly hurt. Adding insult to injury, some of these teens record their exploits on cellphones and post them to social networking websites. Reports from around the country, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Chicago and St. Louis point to a growing phenomenon, with St. Louis seemingly at the forefront. St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom told the Associated Press the city has seen about 10 attacks over the past 15 months.
Yet even as Isom tried to downplay the number of kids involved, claiming “it’s an isolated group of maybe five to nine kids,” local teens contradicted him. “I’d say maybe ten to fifteen percent of kids play Knockout King,” said eighteen-year-old Aaron Davis. “Everybody plays,” said eighteen-year-old Brandon Demond, a former participant who provided only his first and middle names for publication. “It’s a game for groups of teens to see who can hit a person the hardest,” he added.
How hard? In 2009, Adam Taylor was attacked in a parking garage. He suffered bruising on the brain, whiplash and internal bleeding, but survived. Matt Quain, 51, was left with a broken jaw and a fractured skull after he became a victim of the game in October. Last April, a homeless man, 55, was attacked in a Chicago train station and knocked unconscious. A video of that attack was posted in November to a hip-hop website. It received a quarter of a million views in two days.
All three men were lucky compared to Hoang Nguyen, 72, who stepped in front of his wife to defend her from a pack of youths. He paid with his life. Elex Murphy, 18, who was charged with first-degree murder in the case, allegedly told police the attack was part of the Knockout King game.
As expected, these thugs have their apologists. Two quotes from the River Front Times in Missouri indicate a sense of denial coupled with a tiresome excuse for the behavior. Quote 1: “All but two of the ten victims RFT interviewed were white (one was black and one was Latino), and all of the players were black. But Knockout King does not appear to be bounded by race.” Reality suggests that if all of the players were white, and all but two of the victims were black, race would be an integral part of the equation for the media.
Quote number 2: “Rather than sweep the race issue under the rug, Saint Louis University criminologist Norman White says Knockout King should be viewed with a broader lens that captures the social disparities of the city. The issue, he says, is less about acts of physical violence than it is about the dearth of opportunities for disadvantaged–and mostly black–youth. He calls that population ‘our blind side.'” Again, one suspects more than a few Americans are getting tired of the idea that a “dearth of opportunities,” more familiarly known as a lack government spending, is still being used as a rationale to explain overt thuggery.
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