In the past several days, evidence of an upsetting and violent trend has begun to get national attention, and with it, a disturbing racial commentary on violence has emerged.
The so-called “knockout game” refers to a violent series of attacks where young people challenge each other to punch a stranger and try to render the person unconscious with a single hit and then videotape the attack and post it online. Law enforcement officers in Washington, D.C. have recently begun investigating attacks that fit the description, joining police in several other regions who have encountered more of these assaults in recent weeks, including New Jersey and upstate New York.
In response to the recent attention on this violence, significant commentary has focused on the fact that the prevalence of this violence is being ignored because it is being perpetrated by black youths and targeting white people.
First, it is worth noting that the victims of this grisly “game” have not all been White, nor have the “players” all been Black. Where there has been evidence that victims were singled out because of their race – as was the case with some Jewish victims in New York – those cases were investigated as hate crimes. However, by most accounts, these attacks appear to be random acts of senseless violence. This has not stopped a confusing preoccupation with the role that race is playing in both the attacks and the subsequent reporting of it. Instead of focusing on the tragedy itself, much of the commentary so far has made a curious and ahistorical claim that when white people are the victims of crimes committed by Black people, it receives little attention. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do White victims of crime receive a disproportionate share of media attention regardless of the race of the perpetrator, cases with a White victim and Black perpetrator are also significantly more likely to result in an arrest and conviction.
The knockout game is horrific. It’s terrifying. It’s most certainly illegal. And it, tragically, has been fatal. But it is not a Black youth phenomenon.
Even so, news reports and videos of these disturbing attacks have been met with unsupported accusations that crimes are being overwhelmingly perpetrated by youth of color, that they are racially-motivated, and that the media is ignoring these supposedly “obvious” truths in a fit of political correctness.
The idea that the knockout game is a “Black crime” is logically no different from the idea that the holiday film The Best Man Holiday is a “race-themed” film. In the same way that the mere presence of Black people did not automatically transform the movie into a treatise on race, the mere fact that some of the perpetrators of this violence have been black and some of the victims have been white does not prove racial motive.
The rush to uncover a racial element to this abhorrent violence reveals a disturbing trend in the way race and violence operate in America. In order for white-on-black crime to be considered racially motivated, there has to be evidence of racial animus. In order for Black-on-White crime to be considered racially motivated, evidently, all there needs to be is the involvement of black people. The race-baiting is needless and, ironically, perpetuates an atmosphere of racial mistrust and cultural resentment that leads to a culture of violence in which deadly “games” like this one can exist.
Obviously, the knockout game is abhorrent and must be addressed, but we are missing an opportunity if we do not likewise address the underlying issues surrounding race that permeate our discussions about crime, law enforcement, and how we perceive violence. We have come to pathologize violence in Black youth so strongly that a spate of teenagers attacking strangers is somehow being attributed to black culture instead of, rightfully, to a culture of violence. This perception is wrong, dangerous, and it makes us all less safe.