- - Wednesday, December 4, 2013


As much of the media failed to acknowledge that the “knockout game” involved mostly black-on-white crime, two well-known black leaders have decried the violence: the Rev. Al Sharpton and Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page.

The assaults in which, for the most part, young blacks tried to knock out others, often older people, with a single punch have been reported throughout the nation, in Jersey City, N.J.; Lansing, Mich.; Los Angeles; New York; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Syracuse, N.Y.; and other mainly urban areas.

Mr. Sharpton, long known for heightening rather than defusing tension on racially divisive issues, argued the trend was a serious one in a column in the Huffington Post.

“It is an alarming trend that is spurring outrageous incidents across the country. It is deplorable, reprehensible and inexcusable. It is insane thuggery, and it is unequivocally wrong,” Mr. Sharpton wrote. “We would not be silent if it were the other way around, and we will not be silent now. This behavior is racist, period.”

I applaud Mr. Sharpton for his comments — something I don’t think I have ever done before. He said he plans to call a national meeting to discuss the problem.

Mr. Page, a member of the Tribune’s editorial board, chimed in: “The knockout game is no joke. Senseless youth violence is the point of the spear, in my view, toward a larger social breakdown that follows young people who have too much time and too little guidance.” He wrote he’s uncertain whether the incidents show a pattern. “Infuriating anecdotes don’t make a trend,” he said.

Despite numerous videos of people being punched, other journalists tried to downplay the significance of the recent attacks. In the Los Angeles Times, for example, columnist Robin Abcarian scorned the stories. “It’s part of the ongoing demonization of black teenagers,” said Ms. Abcarian, who is white.

Emma Roller, an editorial assistant at Slate.com and who also is white, argued that the data do not exist in a story with the headline, “Sorry, conservative media: The ‘knockout game’ trend is a myth.”

Of course, the data don’t exist. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports for 2013, which compile information from nearly all U.S. police authorities, won’t be available until next year. I thought every journalist covering crime knew that. The FBI did find an overall increase of 1.1 percent to more than 760,000 incidents for aggravated assaults from 2011 to 2012, including a significant spike of more than 12 percent in Washington, D.C., for example, during the same period.

Police seemed split on how prevalent the assaults have become. “We’re trying to determine whether or not this is a real phenomenon,” said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly of New York City, where an estimated 10 incidents have occurred. Police Sgt. Tom Connellan in Syracuse, where two people have died in such attacks, said he thinks the “game” is quite real. “As opposed to a motive for assault, be it anger or robbery, this is strictly for a game,” he said.

Here is a basic fact: The FBI statistics show young blacks committed more crime on a per-capita basis than any other group in the country. At least some prominent blacks acknowledged the “knockout game” poses a problem rather than accusing conservative media of fomenting racial fear.

It would be useful if others in the media would try to determine what, if anything, can be done about these disturbing incidents rather than turn a potentially useful discussion into yet another polemic between liberals and conservatives.

Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at the Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at charper@washingtontimes.com. Twitter: @charper51

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