The Knockout Game Myth and its Racist Roots

Originally from Laurence Kesterson/The Philadephia Inquirer, this picture has become popular online as an image of the ominous, random, black violence which Colin Flaherty deceptively claims is sweeping the nation.

“Groups of black youths roam the streets looking for a solitary pedestrian, preferably white (hence the alternate name ‘polar-bearing’) but Asian or Hispanic will do. The trick is to knock him to the ground with a single punch. . . . Widely available video exists of almost all Knockout incidents, since the really cool thing is to have your buddies film it and upload it to YouTube. And it’s so simple to do in an age when every moronic savage has his own ‘smart phone.’” –Mark Steyn, National Review Online

The stories are chilling–conjuring a world of senseless, alien violence as incomprehensible as it is reprehensible. Rightfully, we are mortified and outraged and we fear for a country in which A Clockwork Orange ultra-violence finds life in our streets. The analysis of many pundits is startling: these attacks are racially motivated hate crimes against whites by black youths and the media and our politicians refuse to identify these racist motives out of political correctness.

What goes mostly unspoken in these commentaries on the “knockout game” is the idea that these assaults are racially motivated and so white people should be wary of groups of black men. Some take this further and blame the “liberal media” for the violence, since the media allegedly hid the “truth” about the race of the criminals. If only the media would tell us when black people attack white people, we’d know to not trust them and we’d be safe, the logic goes.

But are these pundits correct? Are these crimes committed by roaming packs of black “savages” against white people?

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 it is “evidently increasing [in] popularity.” Most sources claim that it is spreading, and a number of sources claim that it is racially motivated. But how do they know? Where are they getting their data from?

Alec Torres wrote what appears to be the most thorough survey of all the reported accounts of the “knockout game,” but these “reports” are actually newspaper reports, not police reports, so they don’t give us a reliable picture. Yet, Torres is confident enough to conclude: “Most of the victims have been whites and Asians, and attackers tend to target Jews, immigrants, and the elderly in particular. Most of the attackers have been African American.”

“Most” is an awfully slippery word to describe a increasingly popular, violent hate crime.

What’s very perplexing about Torres’s post is that he quotes multiple times from an award-winning article by John H. Tucker in Riverfront Times titled, Knockout King: Kids call it a game. Academics call it a bogus trend. Cops call it murder. I say this citation is perplexing because Tucker’s article explains quite clearly why sweeping claims about rising incidences of the “knockout game” and the racial identities of the perpetrators and victims are bogus. Tucker helps us see how many commentaries about these assaults are deeply flawed.

First of all, we don’t have reliable data:

A variety of factors make it impossible to quantify how many assaults can be attributed to Knockout King. For one, police often categorize such attacks as attempted robberies; though participants say theft isn’t the motive, they’ve been known to add larceny to injury when the opportunity presents itself. Moreover, because victims usually don’t get a good look at their assailant, incidents seldom result in charges. Many of the most vulnerable victims don’t file police reports, either because they fear revenge or were taught in their native countries not to trust police.

In order to draw any remotely competent conclusion about these assaults, you’d have to deal with all the above problems and also consider if crimes by whites are reported as frequently as crimes by blacks, whether teens of other races might refer to the game by another name or not label it at all, how the percentage of attacks by blacks compares to the general percentage of assaults by black teens, and so on. Analyzing data is not as simple as watching some YouTube videos and Googling “knockout game.” Here’s Tucker again:

Given that 4.3 million violent attacks were reported by U.S. citizens in 2009, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, Males [a research fellow at the nonprofit Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice] says reporters should know better than to highlight a handful of random attacks by kids and call it journalism. It’s the same thing as plucking a few instances of attackers with Jewish surnames who beat up non-Jews and declaring it a “troubling new trend,” he argues.

. . .

All but two of the ten victims . . . interviewed were white (one was black and was Latino), and all of the players were black. But Knockout King does not appear to be bounded by race. Jason, from St. Louis County, says two white friends were part of his punch-out crew. One Dutchtown woman, agreeing to speak on the condition that her name not be published, says police caught her son, who is white, playing Knockout King. . . .

“It’s not a black thing, it’s a kid thing,” the woman says. “It’s teenage kids trying to be cool. My son’s as white as can be. He doesn’t have a black bone in his body.”

How could Torres read this article and yet still come to the conclusion that the assaults are on the rise and that “most” of them involve black assailants and white or asian victims? In his defense, other pundits have drawn the same conclusion, despite the lack of evidence.

Of course, there are some things we can confidently say about these crimes: “Most criminologists and youth experts agree that unprovoked attacks by teenagers on strangers are a real, if extremely rare, phenomenon,” notes Tucker. What’s more, unquestionably these attacks are horrid and inhumane, Mark Steyn is right that these perpetrators lack a basic moral fortitude, the guilty parties must be apprehended and punished, and the public should be warned about the realities of random violent crime. And we might even admit that some of these assaults appear to have been hate crimes. None of these claims are objectionable because we have evidence for them.

What we don’t have evidence for is the claim that this “game” is becoming increasingly popular or that it is part of a larger problem of black mob violence which the media is ignoring. To support such absurd claims we need to turn elsewhere, away from the experts and the data, to a man who has made a name for himself peddling a book which purports to show that a covert race war is being waged by blacks against whites all across the country, and the knockout game is just one weapon in their arsenal.

Colin Flaherty

Image: Amazon

Before almost anyone else was talking about the “knockout game,” Colin Flaherty was reporting on it and other incidences of what he calls “black mob violence” for WorldNetDaily, the notoriously deceptive, far-right news and opinions site. His schtick is simple: every time he finds a report of black “mob” violence or black on white violence, he writes about it. He’s compiled many of these incidences into his book, White Girl Bleed A Lotwhich is ranked #1,455 under “Books” at Amazon as of Sunday evening, 24th of November. Its high ranking is undoubtedly due to the press he’s been getting. Hannity had him on his radio show. And Thomas Sowell’s article on the knockout game, which was published in the New York Post and the National Review Online, cites Flaherty and repeats much of the WND author’s rhetoric about the national epidemic of racial violence that the media has covered up. This isn’t too surprising, since Sowell’s original review of the book was actually published on the NRO’s website, where he gave the book high praise. His book has also received praise from Allen West, David Horowitz, and American Thinker.

Rumors of this trend have inspired many self-defense fantasies, which are troubling in the way they celebrate violence.

What’s surprising about all the positive press Flaherty has received is that his articles purporting to prove this epidemic of black racial violence are incredibly, basically absurd. And that absurdity, the lengths Flaherty is willing to go to support his assertion about the secret race war can really only be interpreted as bigotry. Flaherty deceives his readers to sell his book, peddling the classic white fear of the savage, violent, black man, mixed in with a little contemporary rhetoric about how the “liberal,” politically correct media is covering up for black thugs. This narrative fits nicely into the larger perception that Obama has created a nation of entitled, lazy, and violent blacks, which I have written about before.

Image: Amazon

The most basic flaw in his argument is that his entire project is one big stacked evidence fallacy. If you only cite examples of black crime, of course you’ll conclude that there’s a national racial crime wave! Using that “logic” I can prove that any group is waging a secret race war (it is interesting to note that Robert Spencer of JihadWatch uses a very similar method to argue that Muslims are dangerous). On top of that egregious error, Flaherty entirely ignores all other characteristics of the crimes: social class, education, setting; nothing else matters except race to him. Any respectable criminologist would scoff at such a methodology, not because they want to be politically correct, but because it’s a gross reduction of the factors that actually contribute to crime. Next, Flaherty fails to recognize that correlation does not equal causation. So, because a black person commits a violent crime, his blackness must have caused it, in Flaherty’s logic. And because a black party got out of hand, it’s a “race riot.” Yes, that’s right, because the partiers were black, it was a “race” riot. Because “black” is a race. Makes perfect sense, right?

When the media doesn’t mention that a violent crime was committed by a black person, that’s evidence of a cover up for Flaherty. In one article, he describes calling and emailing the police to try to learn the racial makeup of a party that turned into a “mob”:

“What happened? Was this a case of black mob violence?”

No reply. I get that a lot. It is a red flag.

So, he called the police and explicitly asked if an incident was “black mob violence,” and when he got no reply, it was confirmation to him that the police were hiding the truth. My guess is that in most of these cases, the media and police are silent about the race of the perpetrators because “race” isn’t really a factor in the crimes.

Flaherty regularly stacks and exaggerates the evidence (also see here, or here, or here).

Another self-defense fantasy.

Colin Flaherty and his project have been cited repeatedly to support the claim that the “knockout game” is really about racial violence against whites.  He’s been cited to this end not just in far-right publications like WND, or FrontPageMag, but in the National Review Online, one of the most respected conservative journals, and one that I like to recommend. His conspiracy is extremely racist, as Flaherty reduces everything down to the color of the criminal’s skin, regardless of the facts. He consistently distorts the truth in order to portray black people as the savage, animalistic, and Other.

We need to be honest and accurate about these crimes, neither sharing the hysteria and racial fear-mongering nor trivializing the reality of these crimes. This isn’t easy to balance. We have the right to be concerned about random violence and the authorities have the responsibility to protect us and prosecute violent criminals. But we also have the responsibility to tell the truth about our neighbor and the world.

Further resources:

For more on this “trend,” I highly recommend John H. Tucker’s longform piece from 2011 and this interview with Dr. Jeffrey A. Butts.

About Alan Noble

(Co-Founder/Editor/Columnist) is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Contemporary American Literature from Baylor, writing on manifestations of transcendence in 20th Century American Lit. He and his family attend Redeemer Waco, a PCA church. Alan's passion is studying how believers can be a faithful presence in culture to the glory of God and the edification of others. In addition to editing, Alan writes his column, Citizenship Confusion for CaPC.

---Follow Alan on Twitter @TheAlanNoble and on Facebook.

---For questions, comments, or interest in speaking engagements please email me at noble.noneuclidean [at] gmail [dot] com.


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