“Knockout” Black Swans

November 23rd, 2013

Sound the alarm! There’s a new reason for people to panic and freak the hell out. It’s called “knockout game.” The horror. Idiot teenagers sucker-punching someone else. And of course, some legislator is *already* proposing laws to stop it! Well not stop it, but throw stupid teenagers into jail for even longer periods.

A New York lawmaker is proposinglegislation that would require that youths charged with assault or gang assault in connection with the violent knockout contest will be treated as adults in the criminal-justice system.

“This is not a video game. When they incapacitate people, they don’t get up and start over again. Many of their lives are destroyed,” James Tedisco, an upstate Republican assemblyman who is sponsoring the measure, told Law Blog. “They’re punks, they’re thugs, they’re cowards.”

The proposed changes to the state’s criminal code would also increase criminal penalties against “knockout” perpetrators in situations not involving manslaughter, treating the attack as assault in the first degree — a felony punishable by five to 25 years in prison. Currently such attacks are treated as a lesser crime carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years, according to the lawmaker’s office.

The bill would also impose tougher punishments on accomplices who video-record the assault and encourage the attack.

Regular assault and battery statutes, and maybe even attempted murder charges, are, apparently, woefully incapable of handling such crimes.

But is this even a problem? Or more precisely, is this anything new, other than a new, scary sounding name?

The attack added to a growing log of reports of such crimes in the Northeast and beyond. Young assailants were randomly picking unlucky targets and trying to knock them out with just one punch.

Yet police officials in several cities where such attacks have been reported said that the “game” amounted to little more than an urban myth, and that the attacks in question might be nothing more than the sort of random assaults that have always occurred.

And in New York City, police officials are struggling to determine whether they should advise the public to take precautions against the Knockout Game — or whether in fact it existed.

“We’re trying to determine whether or not this is a real phenomenon,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said on Friday. “I mean, yes, something like this can happen. But we would like to have people come forward and give us any information they have.”

Urban myth. Just because several of these things happen in a short span, people freak out.

If anything, all of the attention the media is giving these crimes will likely increase their prevalence, as copy-cat kids will read about it, and think, gee that sounds like fun. Giving attention to this topic will likely result in more sucker-punches than ignoring it.

Update: More from SHG:

The knee-jerk reaction by Tedisco, and the potential of the legislature actually acting upon his madness by creating a new crime (or amending an old one to include this conduct) reflects the cynical use of legislation to play upon public fear and ignorance.


And yet, some yahoo upstate nobody assemblyman wants a new law to stop something that may exist mostly in the media and the fear it’s caused to those who believe it.

If this turns out to be more than transitory conduct by a few despicable people, and it may as a result of the media attention, the existing law is more than sufficient to adequately address it.  The notion that 15 years in prison provides an inadequate deterrent or insufficient retribution is utterly absurd.   And yet, there is invariably some lawmaker who sees an opportunity to capitalize on it for his own self-aggrandizement.

And from the Times:

Mr. Marajh had been celebrating his birthday with friends when he passed the victim, his lawyer, James Kirshner, said. Mr. Marajh, who denied hitting him, had never heard of the Knockout Game, Mr. Kirshner said, adding, “This case has blown out of proportion.”

Residents feared the attack was part of the game, but the New York police had cautioned that they were trying to determine whether it was a real problem or an urban myth.

Update: More from ThinkProgress:

There’s just one problem, though: It might not be real.

Panic over the knockout game seems to have grown after a local news report in Jersey City showed young black kids with blurred faces explaining the game. “They just want to see if you have enough strength to knock somebody out,” says one kid in the video. The game was linked with other reports of random violence, particularly a spate of punching incidents in Brooklyn that had been qualified as hate crimes.

But the term was actually used as far back as 2011, in St. Louis, Missouri, after a fewincidents — one where a group of kids who called themselves “The Knock Out clan” (TKO), beat up a 51-year-old man. And it’s not the only way to describe this so-called game. It’s also been called “polar bear hunting,” an allusion to the race of the victims — white.