Hackensack and Paterson assaults are not part of ‘knockout game,’ police say
August 21, 2014
by Abbott Koloff
THE RECORD AND PATERSON PRESS
After a man in his 60s was beaten by a group of teenagers in Paterson on Wednesday night, a city councilman said it looked like an example of a supposedly trending national game called “knockout.” Fears that the game, blamed for at least one death in New Jersey, had taken root locally were fanned earlier in the week when a lone assailant randomly punched three people in separate incidents in Hackensack.
On Thursday, authorities said neither case appeared to fit the criteria to be called the knockout game, which they said typically involves a group of people approaching a victim and one person throwing a single punch while someone videotapes the incident to place on social media. Experts, meanwhile, said there are no hard rules for the knockout game, if it exists at all, and that it may be more urban legend than crime wave.
“It’s taken on a life of its own,” Capt. Thomas Salcedo of the Hackensack police said Thursday of references to three attacks in his city within a 15-minute span Monday evening as being the knockout game.
The three assaults, he said, were committed by one person who was “clearly on his own” and did not appear to be video recording them to place on social media, facts that he said don’t fit reports of the knockout game. The only resemblance, he said, was that the assailant struck each of his victims with a single punch.
“We have no reason to believe that this is part of what’s known as the knockout game,” Salcedo said.
In Paterson, Councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman said that a man in his 60s was left “bleeding all over the place” after being attacked Wednesday at 9 p.m. by a group of young men who appeared to be playing the knockout game. At least one of the assailants, a juvenile, was arrested, he said.
“There was no reason for it,” Akhtaruzzaman said of the attack. “It had to be that knockout game.”
The city’s police director, Jerry Speziale, said it didn’t fit the reported pattern of the knockout game because more than one person attacked the victim. Detectives, he said, have not ruled out the possibility that the young people were imitating the knockout game and will investigate to “determine the responsible parties and the motive.”
The most highly publicized case of the knockout game in New Jersey occurred late last year in Hoboken, when a 14-year-old boy who was walking with a group of Jersey City teenagers punched a 46-year-old man, leading to his death. The boy who threw the punch was sentenced last week to six years in juvenile detention. Hudson County Assistant Prosecutor Gene Rubino did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.
While the case was widely seen as an example of the knockout game, the state police and the state Attorney General’s Office have said it is not a trending problem in the area. But the game’s notoriety and base violence led almost a dozen state lawmakers to sponsor five bills late last year to toughen penalties for people who participate in it. Those initiatives are pending.
At the same time as the Hoboken assault, a flood of national stories appeared about the knockout game, according to Jeffrey A. Butts, a head researcher at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Butts said the stories indicated a heightened interest by the media but not necessarily a rise in the number of incidents, which he said are rare.
There are “maybe a half-dozen really graphic disturbing clips of people being popped on the street” on Internet sites, he said, adding that there are no statistics regarding the knockout game because police don’t keep track of such things. There are isolated examples of similar behavior going back 20 years, he said.
Butts also said some of the perceptions of the knockout game are colored by the belief in some circles that it is racially motivated and often involves black youths attacking white people, a contention that he said is not true. Assailants and victims, he said, have been of various ethnic backgrounds.
“You see a mix of racial patterns,” he said.
When he was quoted late last year in published reports saying that the knockout game was not a growing problem, he said he received a flood of hate mail from people across the country who claimed that he was helping the “mainstream media” to cover up attacks by African-Americans.
New York authorities said last year that Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn feared being targeted by black youths after several reports of knockout game incidents. But they also questioned whether a few reported incidents were a trend. Butts said that groups looking to attack don’t pick someone who looks like them, and that might create the appearance of a racial motivation. But, he added, “It’s not about race.”
Hate case in Texas
Federal prosecutors in Texas have charged one man with a hate crime in what they have said was an apparent version of the knockout game.
The defendant, Conrad Barrett, is a 27-year-old white man. He allegedly broke the jaw of a 79-year-old African-American in Katy, Texas, last November, and ran away laughing. Authorities say Barrett stored a video on his phone in which he said he was working up the courage to play the knockout game and wanted to see whether punching a black man would bring him national attention.
Butts said the motivations for such crimes, whether racial or part of a violent game, are difficult to prove without a confession. “You have to get inside their heads,” he said of the assailants. “There’s not any solid evidence that there is a game.”
The victim of a reported knockout attack in Pittsburgh, James Addlespurger, told the Huffington Post last year that he believes the media fabricated the trend and that it has been fueled by a handful of YouTube videos, including video surveillance of him being struck and falling to the ground. He said he felt he was “exploited” and that the attack was “an assault, plain and simple.”
Last November, when the knockout game was in the national news, Paterson police said they were trying to determine whether it played a part in an attack by a group of young people who beat up a 19-year-old Bengalese man. On Thursday, Speziale said police determined that the teenagers involved in that attack were not playing the knockout game. He did not say how police came to that conclusion. The case has since been dismissed because the victim didn’t cooperate with police, the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office said.
The Paterson Press contributed to this report.