• The SIN Moral Panic Series: The ‘Knockout Game’

    What is a Moral Panic?

    A moral panic, says Wikipedia, is an issue that causes “an intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order.” It also contains the following features:

    Concern – There must be awareness that the behavior of the group or category in question is likely to have a negative effect on society.
    Hostility – Hostility towards the group in question increases, and they become “folk devils”. A clear division forms between “them” and “us”.
    Consensus – Though concern does not have to be nationwide, there must be widespread acceptance that the group in question poses a very real threat to society. It is important at this stage that the “moral entrepreneurs” are vocal and the “folk devils” appear weak and disorganized.
    Disproportionality – The action taken is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the accused group.
    Volatility – Moral panics are highly volatile and tend to disappear as quickly as they appeared due to a wane in public interest or news reports changing to another topic.

    One example of a moral panic is the so-called ‘Knockout Game’ which has been widely featured on numerous media outlets the last few years, particularly this last year. The ‘Knockout Game’ fits nearly each of the above criteria to a tee. 1) There have been many media reports warning of a “new trend” occurring among black teens. 2) These African American teens then become subjects of suspicion and harassment (the “Stop and Frisk” laws may be such an example). 3) Due to the media coverage on this issue, they have given society a false sense of urgency about these assaults. 4) Crime data do not show any increases violent crime. In fact, according to the National Crime Survey “[i]n 2013, the overall violent crime rate declined slightly from 26.1 to 23.2 victimizations per 1,000 U.S. residents from 2012 to 2013, per the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).” 4) And finally, as with many of the past moral panics of our time, such as “headlight flashing,” (see ‘Urban Legend’) once the media coverage dies down the lawmakers and the political pundits will also forget about the issue, as will society at large.

    What is the ‘Knockout Game’?

    According to Wikipedia it is “one of many names given by American news media to assaults in which, purportedly, one or more assailants attempt to knock out an unsuspecting victim, often with a single sucker punch, all for the amusement of the attacker(s) and their accomplice(s).” You can view a number of cases of these assaults on YouTube. While you can search out videos yourself there is one particular assault I’d like to highlight because it is especially gruesome and it helps to make a point I’m going to make later on.

    In the news program below you will witness a woman apparently being knocked unconscious by a man who can be seen running up behind her who then punches her in the side of the head.

    Also in this news clip you will witness the reporters sowing fear about this ‘growing trend’ taking place across the country. All this, while previously they mentioned only a total of five states that had a handful of confirmed attacks.

    Is the Knockout Game a Myth?

    If you listen to the mass media on the subject, there appears to be an epidemic of violence taking place and a loosening of the moral fiber of today’s youth. News outlets like WND (though I’m hard-pressed to call this a “news” website), Today News, and even CNN have reported on these incidences. While many news outlets appear to have blown these cases out of proportion, buried within some of their reports you can find statements like this, as read in the above CNN article: “Despite the recent assaults, […] police in New York haven’t yet seen evidence of a ‘knockout’ trend’.”

    The liberal media and others are sounding the alarm in the other direction. They argue that a handful of cases is not a national emergency and lawmakers do not need to focus their attention on these few and isolated cases of assault. The advice most often provided is to treat them like any other form of assault. Try to locate the perpetrator(s) and help the victim, but don’t make these incidences out to be more than they are: isolated cases that are not indicative of a national problem or a growing trend.

    Nor does it appear to be an issue of race, as many conservative pundits argue. A very good article in the Riverfront Times by John H. Tucker (linked to above) notes how many white teens have also reported playing the game. The article also mentions how this “game” has been wildly over-reported by the press, noting,

    While some middle schoolers say Knockout King is still played around the city, crime statistics do not indicate it’s a rising trend. None of the victims RFT interviewed was attacked during 2011; most incidents they described occurred during 2009 and 2010. Several sources point to one school, Alternative Education–South, in Carondelet, as a onetime Knockout King palace, but it shut its doors last year.

    Another good article by The Daily Beast (also linked above) makes the very good observation that this media blitz overstating the issue:

    But it’s this media panic—as well as the strongly anecdotal nature of the coverage—that should give us pause before we declare the “knockout game” a national problem. After all, it wouldn’t be the first media furor over teen behavior. Recall the panics over “wilding”—where teenagers were attacking innocent bystanders en masse—or “headlight flashing,” where gang members were marking their victims during nighttime drives. In both cases, you could find instances that fit either description, but in a country with tens of millions of teenagers, where you could find examples of almost any behavior, you need more than a few anecdotes to prove a trend.

    I couldn’t agree more. The likelihood that you will become a victim of this “game” is very slim. I’d argue that your chances are about as good as being struck by lightening. As reports have indicated, this “game” has been around since about the year 1992. If it’s taken this long for a massive media campaign to pick up on the story chances are there isn’t much of a story in the first place.

    But What If I Am Attacked?

    Despite the fact that the likelihood of being attacked in this manner is slim my conscience cannot ignore addressing one more issue. Someone may ask, “Alight, so this isn’t much of a problem, but there is clearly a handful of people going around copying this form of assault. What should I do if by a slim chance I become a victim?”

    Not only am I a “skeptic” I am also a long time practitioner of various martial arts and self-defense systems. My advice would be to always be aware of your surroundings while out and about. In the example shown above of a woman being assaulted she was clearly not paying attention to her surroundings. I am hard pressed to believe the man running had the skills of a ninja and approached her without making a sound. Had the woman been paying attention to her surroundings I am certain she would have heard these fast approaching steps and looked behind her to see this man running towards her, which would have caused her to take some kind of action, hopefully thwarting the attack and avoiding injury.

    How do you become more aware of your surroundings? It’s relatively simple, but it does take a little practice. With so many distractions occurring in our lives throughout the day it can sometimes be hard to take note of what is happening around us. Talking on cell phones, texting, looking at the advertisements that surround us, day dreaming, or becoming absorbed by our inner dialogue, telling ourselves to remember to pick such and such up at the store, stop at the bank, and….and…. and the list goes on.

    My advice would be to block out these distractions temporarily while you’re out walking around in public, or at the very least dim them so you do not become absorbed by your thoughts. Always keep an eye and ear open for anything suspicious or out of the ordinary. Most people do not run to get where they are going so any kind of sound of fast approaching foot steps should cause you to at least take a quick look behind you to see what is happening. Other than awareness, there are some techniques you can learn to stop sudden ambush attacks but they are unfortunately beyond the scope of this piece. A number of good self-defense systems address such issues so I would suggest looking around for one that includes this kind of training in their curriculum.


    While your chances of being attacked by thugs in a “Knockout Game” style of attack are slim and probably has about the same likelihood as being struck by lightening, there is still an average of about 50 people struck by lightening each year based upon reported incidences, according to the National Weather Service. Just as one would be wise to heed the advice of experts about how to avoid the unlikely occurrence of being hit by lightening, I would also argue that it would be wise to heed the advice of experts in ways of avoiding becoming a possible victim of this unlikely form of assault.

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist