Police Continue to Investigate 'Knockout Game'

Tuesday, 26 Nov 2013 02:47 PM

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Police in several U.S. cities continue to investigate a frightening series of violent assaults that are part of what has been dubbed "the knockout game," but putting an end to the random attacks won't be easy.

In the "game," a youth sucker-punches a stranger, trying to knock the victim out with one blow. The attacks have been seen in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and other urban areas, and police have increased their street presence in response.

At least seven such attacks have occurred in Brooklyn, N.Y., since late October. Four men were taken into custody, and one of them was charged on Friday with a hate crime for an alleged attack on a member of the borough's Jewish community.

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly deployed additional officers to Brooklyn after the attacks, saying he was concerned about copycats.

"When you highlight an incident or a type of criminal activity, some people will simply try to copy it," Kelly said. "It's a phenomenon we've seen before."

The random assaults have also been dubbed "polar-bearing" because most victims have been white.

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"Stopping the incidents is going to be very hard to do," Harry Houck, a former New York police detective, told CNN. "There is no way we can find out an incident is going to occur tomorrow or the day after because these are random attacks on the street with groups of black youths."

There have been at least a half-dozen recent assaults in Philadelphia that "bear the characteristics of a 'knockout game' attack," NBC-TV 10 reported.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter on Monday condemned the attacks, calling them "disgusting and inexcusable behavior."

"It's not a game. You can seriously injure or possibly even kill someone with this kind of activity," Nutter said.

At least seven deaths across the nation have been attributed to such attacks, Fox News reported, including that of a homeless man in New Jersey who was attacked in an alley in broad daylight.

The crimes have a racial and gang-style component, youth violence experts said.

"It might have not been a gang that has a name we'd recognize, like the Bloods and the Crips, but it was certainly engaging in behavior that looked like gang behavior: going out and committing crimes with a group of friends, a posse if you will, whether it was a formally organized or de facto gang or not," Brian Russell, who co-hosts the Investigation Discovery television series "Fatal Vows," told Newsmax.

"Stuff will happen in groups of emotionally charged-up people that likely wouldn't happen if they were acting as individuals. You take an angry, disaffected young person with a nonexistent values-training upbringing and put him with other angry, disaffected nonexistent values-training kids and it's a recipe for nothing good," said Russell, also a Kansas-based psychologist and lawyer.

"It's pure psychopathy to enjoy the suffering of others," he said. "Anyone who enjoys the suffering of animals or people, you've got to be profoundly concerned about."

New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind did not mince words when reacting to news that four people had been charged with the Brooklyn attack, calling the perpetrators "thugs."

"I am grateful that these four thugs are off the streets, and am hopeful that they will be treated with the severity of the law," Hikind said. "I urge continuing diligence in dealing with this issue."

Youth violence expert Charles Williams, while not defending the youths' actions, said factors such as a lack of family support, being raised in a single-parent home, and the seepage of popular culture into their value systems all come into play.

"The high rate of single motherhood has reached a crisis point in the black community, whether we like it or not," Williams, founding director of Drexel University's Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence, told Newsmax.

"What I'm fighting against is popular culture. For some of these youths, who lack a community or neighborhood, who don't have a father because their father is locked up, popular culture is raising them," said Williams, a professor of psychology and education at Drexel.

"Current rappers, who have so much power, they are not sending a single positive message to our youth. The word YOLO (You Only Live Once) — that's a reinforced message that if it's fun for me and for the people around me, it's OK. If I get social status and power, then who cares how I do it. That's the message that's being preached and taught to them," Williams said.

Social media, where videos are posted constantly for all to see, have encouraged bad conduct because youths receive reinforcement that it's cool, he said.

"Far too many of our young people are coming from thoroughly dysfunctional and almost disintegrated family backgrounds, and they are raising themselves. This is the outcome of that. For these kids, any attention is good attention, so in doing this, what they are saying is 'look at me,'" Williams added.

After an appeal posted online by Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, the Rev. Al Sharpton, a leader in the black community through his National Action Network, got involved. In an address aired Saturday on radio station WLIB, he denounced the violence, asking black church leaders and media to organize a campaign against it.

"This type of behavior is deplorable and must be condemned by all of us," Sharpton admonished. "If someone talked about knocking out blacks, we would not be silent. If it is bigotry, violence, or assault, we must denounce it."

Psychologist Russell said early intervention is crucial in preventing such violence, noting that only slapping youths on the wrists for early infractions like shoplifting is wrong. Their progression to violence must be cut off earlier.

"We've got to start looking at more minor stuff as the big red flag that they are almost waving in front of our face," he said.

Russell also thinks youths need to see some of their peers made examples of with tougher jail sentences to let them know that such conduct is unacceptable and consequential.

"They need to see that knockout-game behavior could land someone in the morgue and me in prison for the rest of my life. I think it's better for everyone if we'd get tougher on these people earlier in their lives," he said.

"These people out there thinking about a knockout offense today, they need to see news coverage of people just like them sent to prison for 10, 20 years, to life."

The perpetrators also need to understand that there are plenty of people who are armed and willing to fight back if they are attacked, he said. That's what happened in Lansing, Mich., last May when the subject of an assault pulled out a legal handgun and shot a teenager who later was given a year in jail for the attack.

"What complete cowards the 'knockout game' participants are psychologically," Russell said. "How much courage does it take to run up to an old lady and sucker-punch her? Not that this would be any more acceptable, but we never see these cowards confronting 6-foot-5, 250-pound men head-on.

"That’s because virtually all psychopaths are cowards. They take pleasure in inflicting pain on others but go to great lengths to avoid their own pain."

Editor’s Note: Get the Emergency Radio, It's a Must Have; Free With Special Offer.

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