The reports coming out of Brooklyn are horrifying: Groups of youths are apparently walking up to random people and punching them in the face as hard as they can — something reportedly called the “knockout game.” What’s more, reports suggest that the teenagers are usually black, and the victims are usually Jewish. Predictably, these reports have led to fears that the game is spreading and will soon turn into racial Armageddon.
Thankfully, however, there isn’t much evidence it’s a trend at all or that there is any racial undertone.
Over at Slate, Emma Roller makes a convincing argument that similar incidents have occurred for years, and that recent coverage of the stories seems to be driven more by racial outrage than the events themselves. She contrasts the way the crimes are covered with the coverage of other crimes. “[It’s] ridiculous to assume that a few unrelated counts of arson make arson an epidemic,” Roller writes. “But when you inject race into the equation, it conveniently aligns with the assumptions of people who happen to be racist.”
Roller points towards an article by Alan Noble who argues there is an astounding lack of data in news reports of about a knockout “trend”:
Here’s the fascinating thing about this “spreading” trend: nobody seems to have any evidence that it’s spreading, or that it’s new, or that it’s racially motivated, or that black youths are the ones typically responsible, or that whites are typically targeted. This hasn’t stopped Mark Steyn, Thomas Sowell, and Matt Walsh from describing this specifically as a crime committed by blacks against whites, CNN from claiming that it is “spreading,” or Alec Torres at NRO from say[ing] it is “evidently increasing [in] popularity.”
I’ll add my own personal perspective here. I am from the U.K., and during my last few years living in my native country there were a number of reports of a trend called “happy slapping” — in which teenagers punched or otherwise attacked strangers and filmed it on their phones. The phrase reportedly first appeared in the British media in 2005, and over the next few years there were multiple examples of it, some of which very sadly resulted in the death of the victims.
While there was no outright racial element to happy slapping, it was hard not to notice that the reported attacks frequently tended to divide along the lines of poor, often non-white people, attacking middle class, often white, people. The trend became such a big deal in the British tabloid press that people began making films where “happy slapping” played a major plot device, and France got so scared of the “happy slapping” that it banned the act of videotaping violence.
There was a lot of talk about “happy slapping” in this period, but neither myself, nor anyone I know, was “happy slapped.” As of 2013, the trend seems to be a distant memory (the Wikipedia page devoted to “happy slapping” has no events past August 2009).
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the trend didn’t exist and wasn’t extremely unpleasant for those who were on the receiving end of it, nor does it mean that everything is just swell in the U.K. and that random violence and racial tensions don’t still exist. What it means is that it’s important to differentiate between a relatively small-scale, anti-social teenage trend, and the far worse problem of systematic racial violence.
That information may not be of any help to the victims of random violence, of course, but it’s true. “Rather than remarking on man’s cruelty to man as a general phenomenon,” Matthew Yglesias (who actually was a victim of the fake “knockout” trend), writes today. “It’s more alarming to devise this specific pseudo-factual narrative.”
He’s right. The “knockout” trend isn’t a sign of worse to come — it’s a reminder that people have the capacity to do cruel things for no reason, just as they always have.
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