Colleen Long, Associated Press
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Police investigate violent game called “knockout,” where goal is to target unsuspecting pedestrians and knock them unconscious with one punch
NEW YORK—Police in New York, Washington and Jersey City are investigating whether recent random attacks on pedestrians are part of a violent game called “knockout,” where the goal is to target unsuspecting pedestrians and knock them unconscious with one punch.
Authorities say the game has been around for years, and it’s played mostly by impulsive teenage boys looking to impress their friends. At least two deaths have been linked to the game this year, and police have seen a recent spike in similar attacks.
In Jersey City, 46-year-old Ralph Eric Santiago died in September after someone punched him and he struck his head on an iron fence. In May in Syracuse, a group of teenagers attempting to knock Michael Daniels out with a single punch wound up beating and stomping him to death, according to police.
Meanwhile, a 78-year-old woman walking in her New York neighbourhood was punched in the head by a stranger and fell to the ground. In Washington, a 32-year-old woman was swarmed by teenagers on bikes, and one hit her in the face.
“It’s hard to excuse this behaviour,” said Jeffrey Butts, a psychologist specializing in juvenile delinquency at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “When someone runs into a store and demands money, you can sort of understand why they’re doing it, desperation, whatever. But just hitting someone for the sheer thrill of seeing if you can knock someone out is just childish.”
The New York Police Department’s hate crimes task force is investigating, because some attacks have been against Orthodox Jews.
One victim in Washington, Phoebe Connolly, said she was randomly punched in the face by a teenager while riding her bike last Friday.
“I don’t know what the goal was,” she said. “There wasn’t any attempt to take anything from me.”
Paul Boxer, a psychology professor at Rutgers University who studies aggressive behaviour, said recent media attention may perpetuate the assaults, but most teens clearly aren’t unfeeling sociopaths.
“You’ve got some impressionable kids, already with a propensity for violence who could be affected by this,” he said. “But not because they are hoping to hurt somebody, it’s more about risk taking, and new, different and exciting ways of getting into trouble.”
Juvenile delinquency experts say the best punishments for these teens would be empathy training, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter. But a New York lawmaker proposed a bill this week that would make stricter sentences not only for those who do the punching, but for those who publish images online and watch the attacks.
“These twisted and cowardly thugs are preying on innocent bystanders, and they don’t care if the victims are young, old, a man or woman,” state Assemblyman Jim Tedisco told The Associated Press in announcing what would be one of the first bills like it in the nation. “Life isn’t a video game.”
Toronto Star 2013