Another Round of “Knockout Game” Idiocy

boxing-gloves-350The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that some 10 million Americans were victimized in violent assaults by strangers over the last two decades—that is, apparently senseless attacks in which inflicting pain appeared the only motive.

Sometime, someone—who knows who or when—decided to label a tiny number of these assaults by young African American males as examples of a “knockout game,” which involves scoring the ferocity of a random punch and whose references go back at least 115 years.

Perhaps such a “knockout game” exists. Among hundreds of thousands of assaults every year, any pattern could be postulated, but there’s no evidence given in the scores of breathless press accounts. All simply picked a few real and anecdotal assaults by black youths across the nation, some years apart, and applied the label. Then, in standard self-reverence, reporters and sources worried that media publicity—that is, their own made-up panic—might stimulate more knockout attacks by “idiotic, impulsive… insensitive, uncaring” teenagers.

Seriously, what is it that makes so many adult brains go haywire when discussing teenagers, to the point that they abandon all sense of logic, fairness, reason, and even basic reality? By what kind of logic do one or two alleged attacks in cities of millions of people and thousands of miles apart demonstrate a generation-wide “teenage” pattern or trend—especially when the press and experts have proven so adept at ignoring real trends?

I’ve never been able to stir up press interest in the hundreds of thousands of violent and sexual victimizations against children and teenagers in substantiated domestic violence every year, overwhelmingly inflicted by parents and parents’ partners. But the press and certain criminal justice dinosaurs are fascinated by the “knockout game,” proclaiming and reproclaiming a new panic every couple of years.

Associated Press reporters and editors have been particularly sadistic in their relentless manufacturing of ever-more-horrifying teenage terrors to whip up fear among an aging population–and they’re hardly alone. The November 21 Associated Press article on the “knockout game,” like many others, made no pretense at objectivity, or even fundamental decency.

One major problem with press-inflated crime panics, BJS reports show, is that stranger assaults, like all violent crime, have plummeted by an astounding 70% to 80% over the last 20 years. More problematic still, the largest declines have been among youth–the press’s and many interests’ favorite punching bag. These trends (when interests are forced to pay attention to reality at all) have posed a headache for news agencies and lobbies that profit handsomely from frightening funders, policy makers, and an older public with crime scares perpetrated by cold young thugs.

So, a supplemental tactic has been to admit (reluctantly, and ‘way down in the article or powerpoint) that crime is down—but it’s so much scarier, so different today. You might have just one-fourth the odds of being violently attacked today than 20 years ago, but attackers back then somehow were more honorable. And social media, with its Facebooks and YouTubes and tweets, are all so disturbingly new.

The worst part, experts selected by reporters asserted, is that the (black) teenager is particularly fearsome, innately incapable of empathy, responsibility, or human caring, driven simply by cruel impulse, thrill-seeking, and mindless, cowardly mob savagery. Of course, self-preserving commentators and reporters today didn’t directly use the word “black;” they know enough not to make the “knockout game’ a “black thing,” as one demurred. They’d be condemned for hate speech and be sent packing. Besides, viewers will deduce quickly enough from the videos and inner-city locales who is being talked about.

So, “youth” and “teen” have become euphemisms to assign collective guilt for the behaviors of the worst fraction, which is the definition of bigotry. The latest “knockout game” and a similar barrage of teen-epidemic articles featuring media-selected experts show that elites still openly demonize whatever group is safe to demonize in their time—Native Americans, Chinese, Irish, Poles, blacks, Italians, Jews, Hispanics, and gays back then; and, now that those groups have acquired power to fight back, teenagers and children.

One impressive exception was WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer, who pointed out an obvious fact other stories omitted: “The vast majority of teens, even in violent communities… don’t go around randomly punching people.” Another, the Christian Science Monitor’s Lisa Suhay, deplored the way that videos and media coverage have “magnified” the “knockout game… beyond its real dimensions to stir panic, hate, and terror that is both longlasting and widespread.”

Mike A MalesThe disturbing aspects of the latest “knockout game” press splash are that there remain (a) a small fraction of teenagers, like a fraction of any group in society, that inflicts senseless, cowardly violence on innocent people, and (b) a much larger, dominant fraction of the press, academia, and professionals that inflicts senseless, cowardly bigotries claiming violence and cruelty are innate to young people.

Mike Males
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Comments

  1. Joseph Maizlish says

    In answer to Mr. Males’ questions about the sensationalist (mis)treatment of topics of public safety in media, government, and society:

    Modern communication enables us to experience the alarm we as animals need in situations of immediate danger — but to experience it when danger is distant in time and space rather than immediate. Any progress in our ability to regain and retain balance will help us resist the panic thinking which easily conforms to prejudice against the designated “others,” and lead to better responses and less counter-productive decisions and policies in realms personal, social, and international.

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