The constant barrage of coverage of the “knockout” game, presented as a trending and popular game where predominantly black youths punch random strangers for thrills, got some pushback in late November when some (Patheos, 11/25/13; Slate, 11/25/13; Daily Beast, 11/25/13) began to examine not only the exaggerated coverage and validity of calling the game a “trend”–but also the racial aspects of such coverage.
“Knockout,” which had been an increasingly favored media topic as of late, evoked memories of the Central Park Jogger case, as the public was led by media to expect the unexpected from groups of black youths.
At the vanguard of the mainstream media coverage was the fear-mongering of one Colin Flaherty, an author popular in white nationalist circles, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (10/23/12), who writes about “black mob violence” and “race wars.” Flaherty was interviewed on Sean Hannity’s radio show (11/22/13), but Flaherty has been writing about mob violence since at least 2011 and is seen as a “marginal” voice. It was recent more mainstream coverage that really pushed the “Knockout” game into the national imagination–sans the embarrassing racial rhetoric of Flaherty.
While the 24-hour news cycle might help to explain why media looks to pick up on supposed “trends” without waiting to see if they actually amount to such, the ease at which violent criminal tendencies can be attached to youth–particularly black youth–is a dangerous habit of media. The consequences can be very serious. Perhaps none more so than the 1989 case of the Central Park Five, a group of black and latino teens in New York that media helped to wrongly convict of a violent rape in both criminal court and the court of public opinion (Democracy Now!, 11/28/12).
Recently there has been a public pushback against casting suspicions on young people of color, whether it be by law enforcement policy (stop and frisk) or the racial profiling by vigilantes (George Zimmerman). But it apparently hasn’t stopped media from reporting on the self-evidence of black youth’s violent criminality so casually.
Newsweek (11/25/13) and The Grio (11/25/13) saw not only the parallels to the media treatment of the Central Park Five, with its descriptions of “wolf packs,” “wilding” and “thugs” (which is how media described players of the “knockout” game today–New York Post, 11/19/13), but also the racial components that factor into whether you see random attacks as simply random attacks, or as black youths on an deadly unchecked tear through America’s streets. Law enforcement isn’t even sure it exists as a real phenomenon (New York Times, 11/23/13), but that didn’t stop some media from reporting on its “spread” (CNN, 11/24/13), that cases are “piling up” (Today, 11/25/13), or that the game could be equated as “terrorism” (Inside Edition, 11/21/13
Largely lost in the debate over whether the “knockout” game is a “trend” or a “myth” is the possibility that media’s obsession with the game might actually be itself inspiring copycat cases, as someone cautioned in the Times article–which would undoubtedly be reported as further evidence.