By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
If you are a viewer of the Fox News Channel — the programs hosted by Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Megyn Kelly, and Greta Van Susteren, especially — you know what the “knockout game” is. The station has given great emphasis to the video clips of young black men approaching white passersby and knocking them to the ground with a single blow to the face; the objective of the assailants is to prove their manhood and earn some chuckles from their peers by rendering the victim unconscious with one sucker punch. Yeah: real tough guys. The film clips are available because the assailants post the videos on the Internet, in an attempt to garner admiration for their show of strength and bravado. Yeah: real dummies.
If on the other hand you watch only network news or one of the other cable news outlets — CNN and MSNBC, for example — you probably have never heard of the “game.” Those stations have given little play to the attacks.
Is Fox overplaying this story, or are the other networks underplaying it in a bout of political correctness? As with so many things, it depends upon your perspective. The news anchors on Fox insist this is a major story, one that would be covered extensively by the other networks if the film clips showed young white men attacking elderly black men and women. The supporters of the other networks insist that these attacks, though horrifying to see taking place, are not a widespread phenomenon, and that giving them significant airtime would fan racial fires and smear the reputations of the vast majority of young blacks who have nothing to do with these crimes.
There is one thing that cannot be denied about these videos, however. They reveal a troubling aspect of urban life in our time. The young blacks carrying out the attacks in these videos may be a small minority of the young black men in the country, but we are not talking about an isolated incident or two. The videos show attacks in several major cities; police departments all around the country going on alert to prevent the “copy cat phenomenon.” As I type these words, my local radio station — not a Fox station — in the New Haven area of Connecticut reported two separate incidents taking place on the streets near Yale University on the night of November 21.
We must keep in mind what is implied by the “copy cat phenomenon.” It means that the young men involved in the knockout game are seeking to emulate videos made by other young thugs and posted on the Internet. In other words, they liked the images of these attacks on unsuspecting whites and are confident that there are many other young people who will respond in the same way to the videos they post. They are confident that the video clips of middle-aged white men and women toppling to the ground with their briefcases and shopping bags will elicit laughter and high fives all around the country.
On Fox News the news anchors shake their heads and “deplore” this “savagery” and “lack of human compassion.” The Fox News anchors come from a world where such a reaction is encouraged in children from their earliest years, a world where children are taught not to be “cruel” and to be “ashamed of themselves” when they taunt and hurt their brothers and sisters and neighborhood friends, a world where fathers teach their children the difference between standing up bravely, even at the risk of personal harm, to defend a victim of bullying, and the act of bullying itself, a world where it is taught that a good person knows the difference between the violence carried out in defense of the innocent — perhaps by a policeman or a soldier — and the violence of the cruel aggressor.
The young men playing the knockout game never learn these things. They live in a world without fathers, where the neighborhood thugs who impregnate numerous women without any sense of responsibility for their offspring are seen as “studs,” where drug-dealers and pimps are admired for their opulent lifestyles, where “gangsta” rap musicians fill their minds with lyrics extolling the life of crime, violence, and the abuse of women, where they associate with street punks who admonish them that taking school, family, and neighborhood responsibilities seriously is “acting white.”
It is this attitude that is being played out in the videos of the knockout game. We are witnessing young men who think it is “soft” to be caring and compassionate and admirable to be “cold” and “hard” in dealing with the privileged people in the world outside their own, people who have exploited them and held them back and are responsible for the lack of opportunity for young men like them.
What percentage of our inner-city neighborhoods are made up of young men like this? No doubt it is small. Probably many of the young men involved in the knockout game are part of urban gangs. But even if we are talking about less than 10 percent of the young black men under the age of 20, we are talking about tens of thousands of angry adolescents in most of our major cities. They have made certain neighborhoods “no-go zones,” areas where the police make it clear that law-abiding citizens should not enter.
But the knockout game does not take place in these no-go zones. Because of their reputation, there are insufficient potential victims walking the streets in those neighborhoods, too few soft and unsuspecting middle-class folks who can be driven to the pavement in the undignified manner that goes over so well on the Internet. Hence, the knockout game aficionados stalk commuter stations and shopping malls in search of prey.
One can only hope that the police in the cities where this phenomenon is taking place will treat it with the seriousness it deserves; that the courts will hand out sentences sufficiently firm to the young men perpetrating these attacks to make clear that there is nothing funny or “macho” about these attacks. The knockout-game assailants should have learned that lesson at home, at church, in the Boy Scouts, from coaches on athletic teams. Since they did not, serious jail time is all that is left, if society does not intend to live with the threat of this violence hanging over its head as a new and permanent fact of life.
There is a quotation from Edmund Burke that I have used several times in the past, in different contexts. It is particularly relevant to the knockout game: “Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”