There have been a few random assaults in the Worcester area over the last month. Unfortunate but not all that surprising. What is surprising is that Worcester police have run to the media in a panic screaming OH GOD IT’S THE URBAN YOUTH AND THEIR KNOCKOUT GAME:
In the past month, police have investigated attacks on the 700 block of Main Street, in the area of 87 Millbury St. and on Chatham near Main Street, all of which involved a male victim walking alone and being approached by another male whom the victims had never met, according to a police report.
Because the assaults are similar to others involving people participating in a violent activity called the “knockout game,” police said that the suspects in the three Worcester attacks might be partaking in the game. The game’s name refers to a “blitz style attack on a random unsuspecting stranger with the goal of knocking the person out with a single punch.”
The knockout game was widely-reported in late 2013, as similar attacks occurred in cities throughout the country.
Oh, it was widely-reported? Well then it MUST be rampaging nationwide, like the chupacabra!
What’s amazing about this story is the sheer volume of coverage it’s gotten based on so little evidence.None of the perpetrators have been identified, never mind had their motivations revealed. Yet neither the Worcester police nor local media seem to need any more evidence than “this seems like something I saw on Fox News” to conclude it’s part of an insidious epidemic.
As Jamelle Bouie reports at The Daily Beast, the “knockout game” is America’s latest phony panic:
[I]t’s worth emphasizing the broad picture. Overall, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2012 crime report, there were an estimated 127,577 assaults with “hands and fists” in American cities with more than 250,000 people, a 0.7 percent increase from the previous year. The “knockout game” may or may not be a new phenomenon, but with a few instances out of tens of thousands of assaults, it’s not a trend, and media outlets shouldn’t treat it as one. A few teens may describe their behavior as a game, but to hold them up as signs of a crime wave is to cherry-pick data and mislead the audience. A little incredulity, in other words, would go a long way.
One last thing: Race is an obvious element in all of this. In almost every report, the assailants are described as young black men, and many of the victims have been white. It’s hard not to see the sensationalized coverage of “knockout”—and before that, “wilding”—as a reflection of our national fear of young black men. Indeed, in the more sinister corners of the Internet, you can find people who argue that these incidents are the opening shots in a “race war” by “feral black youth.”
Random assaults are stupid and awful and I hope the attackers are caught and prosecuted. But the need to tie them to a broader threat says more about us than it does about the attacks.