So today for the umpteenth time we saw another news story, designed to cause mass hysteria with solemn sounding anchors telling us to be on "high alert" for roving gangs of black youth participating in this nationwide trend called "The Knockout Game."
As anchors launch into their tales of terror showing us the same grainy stock footage which includes a teacher being knocked out in New Jersey from two years ago and a woman being knocked out in London, a ticker tape runs across the bottom of our screens telling us police are on the look out for these "young thugs" and have ordered extra patrols...
The story, depending on what city you see it reported, will then tell you about two bike riders in St. Louis being knocked out or black kids in Brooklyn looking for Jews to knock out. There's a report of some kid knocking a woman out in San Diego. All the reports show the same video footage of some young teens in Jersey bragging about how they knock folks out. By then our blood is either boiling or we are scared to death.
The anchors' voices then get shrill as they pull out a map detailing what parts of the country the attacks have happened. In the past month there have been seven knockouts and according to the anchors the videos are being posted all over YouTube by the hundreds.
All the news stories then launch into a field reporter interviewing someone who knows of a friend who knows a friend who got knocked out and went to the hospital because of the Knockout Game.
These news stories from coast to coast end with the reporters telling us two people have been killed by what police think MAY have been a version of the Knockout Game. We are left concluding that we no longer need to fear terrorists organizations like al Qaeda, but instead be wary of marauding black youth. The message is when you see them, run. Why? Because they are gonna knock you out.
These reports have understandably led to some harsh reactions, with many publishing blogs and posting YouTube vlogs promising to shoot if someone dares to try to knock them out. In fact if you go online, you are likely to find scores more threatening responses to the Knockout Game than you are the same three or four videos, all from years past, repeatedly being shown on news stations around the country reporting this new disturbing trend.
It's important that folks not get caught up in the hype of the Knockout Game without putting it in historical, social and political context. First let's be clear in understanding what this is: the Knockout Game is ASSAULT. And when a group of people are "targeting people at random" to assault them, that is basically another form of BULLYING.
Are assaults and bullying acceptable? Absolutely not. Should we be concerned? Of course. But let's be honest when reporting on this type of anti-social behavior. Yes, there are crimes that occur. Yes, there are innocent folks who get attacked, robbed, etc. But this is not what's being reported. Many in the media are making it appear as if this is some sort of game spreading like wild fire from coast to coast. It's simply not true. The fact that they are taking any crime and calling it part of Knockout Game trend is akin to when the police label every crime in certain communities "gang related."
If we look at this honestly, every generation and every inner city has had some sort of Knockout Game or unsavory group action that was attributed to black youth that the media brought to the forefront. These actions were never as big and widespread as reported but it made for good TV and gave politicians a chance to talk tough and push for new harsh laws. What's being reported now is the repackaging and rewording age-old propaganda designed to stoke fears, increase ratings and justify demonizing and criminalizing entire groups of people.
For those who don't know, the Knockout Game was called "wylding" or "rat packing" when I was coming up in New York. In Oakland it was called "mobbing." In other parts of the country it was called "clocking," "chin checking," and just plain old "jumping." Under those names the image of vicious, out of control black teens were attached to them, but such activities should not be separated from those suburban teens who would head to the gay parts of town and jump folks in what we would commonly call "gay bashing."
That should not be separated from the folks who would see Jewish kids wearing yarmulkes or what folks thought were black cowboy hats and snatch them or knock them off their heads and attack them, perceiving them to be weak. Others attacked them because they perceived them to have lots of money and were easy pickings. Some would call it "Jew Jumping."
That should not be separated from those who would see and attack Sikhs wearing turbans or Muslim women wearing hijab. This was "all the rage" after 9/11. Key word "rage" -- which was used as justification.
This should not be separated from roving teens who routinely have jumped and knocked out unsuspecting homeless folks over the years or folks who would shoot pellet guns at unsuspecting bike riders or throw rocks from freeways overpasses at unsuspecting drivers. Or even full-blown riots at college campuses. Often times such activities were reduced to kids just mischief-making.
None of this can separated from the vicious attacks that have routinely visited Mexican day laborers by xenophobic types in violent versions of Knockout commonly known as "Beaner Jumping" or "Wetback Whippings." In some parts of the country, attacks on Mexican migrants would occur with folks referring to them as "Walking ATM Machines" because it was believed they carried cash were unlikely to report crimes to the police.
It was just a few years ago that our nation's newspapers were splattered with headlines about how a group of suburban teens from Long Island attacked two Ecuadorean brothers who were walking arm and arm thinking they were gay and "illegally," brutally beat them with bats, killing one. Once caught it was discovered that this group of teens who had dubbed themselves "The Caucasian Crew" had been on a week-long spree of jumping brown folks who they thought were undocumented. They described "Beaner Jumping" as a commonplace game. You can read about that here.
In recent years we seen this immigrant bashing take on new heights with folks under the guise of "patrolling the border" and sporting names like Minutemen -- with many having Neo-Nazi ties -- seeing themselves playing the ultimate real life war game as they would head down to borders of Arizona and Texas in droves looking for "illegals" to capture, beat up and sometimes shoot. Folks may wanna look up the tragic shooting death of Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter Brisenia by Minutemen, who thought they were here illegally. Read about that here.
Some of you reading this are old enough to recall that if you lived in New York City in the '70s there was a game called "Kill Nigger Day" and if you went to certain parts of town like Bensonhurst, Brookland, Pelham Bay in the Bronx, Howard Beach in Queens, you were gonna get mobbed on by angry whites who basically did this for fun.
If you lived in Boston and went to South Boston the same thing would happen. In fact folks may wanna look at the rap sheet of actor Mark Walhberg, who as a youth was quite fond of jumping black and Asian youth. He was not an exception to what was often described by many as the most racist city in America. Read about that here.
In generations past, in cities like LA, the game was called "Spook Hunting." In fact there was a white racist gang calling themselves the Spook Hunters who would patrol the borders of Watts and Mexican neighborhoods to make sure no black or brown folks would leave the area. For fun they would head into the area and attack folks. Many of these folks were war veterans. You can read about that here.
We also know that many of those military folks, in particular sailors while on duty, would routinely go out and bash on Mexicans wearing Zoot Suits. The random attacks led to what we now call the Zoot Suit Riots. You can read about that here.
Later we would learn that the police themselves under Chief William H. Parker would patrol the Watts area, which on the force was dubbed The Duck Pond Officers; like the Spook Hunters, they would keep blacks contained in that area and for fun would venture off into Watts to jam up folks in sadistic activity called Duck Hunting. They would go in and harass young black teens with the goal of letting them know who was in charge. You can read about that here.
In more recent days we saw the spook hunting, duck hunting mentality rear its ugly head during Katrina. In the Algiers section of New Orleans you had white mobs roaming around going "Peasant hunting," where blacks were shot at random. At least 11 were killed as they were seeking refuge. This is outlined in the documentary and ground breaking report Katrina's Hidden Race War. You can read about that here.
Last year we saw a group of deputies fired from the LA Sheriff's Department because of their random attacks on black and brown folks in LA in what was called Jumping. They dubbed themselves the Jump Out Boys. You can read about that here.
I could go on listing things, but the larger point I'm getting at is that sadly mob violence is as American as apple pie. From the "Knockout Game" and "Beaner Jumping" to lynchings and vigilante justice. There have always been cowardly folks who hid behind large numbers, weapons and badges who have reigned sheer hell upon innocent people. It's bullying 101 and folks of all stripes have had a hand in this. None of it is excusable. None of it should be accepted. It should not be excused as boys being boys or teens just doing a little mischief-making. This is why the Knockout Game reporting has been so troubling; because it acts like this is something new and isolated to one group of people versus it being systemic with deep-seated roots in our country's psyche. In fact the media sensationalizing and outright lying about a trend that doesn't exist could be characterized as a game of Knockout by proxy, because the end result will be folks reacting aggressively and maybe even fatally to imagined dangers conjured up by media hype. The case of Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin and now Renisha McBride are examples of this over reaction.
With all these recent news reports of knockouts folks may be quick to forget it was just two weeks ago these same reporters were telling us to hide our cell phones because everyone was getting them snatched and with daylights saving times the FEAR was evil cell phone snatchers would be out in droves looking to make you a victim.
We have forgotten that it was just a year ago that these same anchors were warning us to watch out for flash mobs of black youths that were going on terror sprees attacking white folks all over the country from Milwaukee to Philly and we needed to be on the look out. In fact the mayor of Philly, Michael Nutter, went ahead and passed legislation for youth curfews. Other cities around the country used the flash mob reports and attempted to follow suit.
Many of us have forgotten that not too long before the flash mob news reports we were told that the evil, vicious Mexican cartels were now invading America and taking over the drug trade and attacking folks and that we need to run for the hills. Many forgot that we were being bombarded with stories and numerous TV specials about MS-13, the World's Most Dangerous Gang, and they were an international super predator gang that was taking over cities all over America.
There were even some "special reports" linking them to terrorists organizations like al Qaeda and more recently Hezbollah. Needless to say, these reports caused a big stir which helped usher in anti-immigrant bills like SB1070 in Arizona and HB 86 in Alabama.
It led to lawmakers from Texas to Florida to California warning us to watch out for "anchor babies" and "terror babies" as they used the reports as a rationale to try to change the Constitution that would disallow children born in the U.S. from undocumented parents from being citizens. The threat of the Brown Menace was used as an excuse to get billions, not millions of dollars to new border walls.
Ironically the same companies building walls here in the U.S. are the same companies building walls in Israel/Palestine where hysteria around Brown Arabs wylding out has led to economic windfall. Lets just keep it 100 percent real, the threat of the Black Brute and Brown menace is Big Business for a lot of people. It's a tradition that dates back a century in popular media from the days of Birth of a Nation which led to the rise of the KKK to the lies told about rapes and murders in the Superdome during New Orleans to now. Zealous politicians and law and order types reacting to these false narratives can easily build political capital, using communities and groups of people who are not fully prepared to counter...
The nationwide hype of the Knockout Game is designed to get us hysterically upset, fearful and angry resulting in us embracing policies and laws that will soon be proposed that justify racial profiling designed to protect us (translation: protect good white folks from out of control black and brown mobs).
Davey D is a journalist, hip-hop historian, activist, and host of Hard Knock Radio and Breakdown FM. This piece first appeared on his website hiphopandpolitics.com.