Television reports and pundits this fall raised the specter of the so-called knockout game—one in which youths, implicitly or explicitly Black, were claimed to be attacking strangers with the goal of knocking them unconscious with a single punch. However, a Houston-area hate crime and other alleged knockout game incidents which have been proven false have now put a spotlight on the demonization of youth of color by the capitalist media.
Even as police told the New York Times that the knockout game may be little more than an urban myth or, at worst, random acts of violence that have long been a part of city life, exaggerated coverage has ruled the news cycle. Viciously racist media stories, in which African-Americans are portrayed as aggressors against whites, can’t hide that Black people are being victimized under the knockout game rubric.
A judge denied bail Dec. 27 to Conrad Barrett, of the Houston suburb of Katy. Charged with a hate crime, Barrett is alleged to have sought out African-Americans for assault. He was arrested after bragging to strangers and showing off cell phone video of himself attacking an elderly Black man.
On Dec. 6, a St. Louis couple, Ashley DePew and Justin Simms, were charged with falsifying a police report for claiming DePew had been a knockout game victim. Simms, they later admitted to investigators, was the one who had actually assaulted DePew.
These incidents are, on their own, troubling. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting statistics released Nov. 28 note nearly 6,000 hate crimes were reported, with fully 77 percent of those crimes being assaults or acts of intimidation. In particular, violence against women is at epidemic levels, and many perpetrators avoid jail by emotionally manipulating survivors into lying to protect them. Yet it is the use of the media’s knockout game hysteria to obscure the criminal system that prompts further inspection.
Capitalism’s fear of Black youth, historically disenfranchised by generations of racism, is no secret. Racial segregation is increasing, studies indicate. Stop-and-frisk police policies; racial disparities in education, healthcare and employment; and politicians’ singling out youth of color for criticism and punishment are enduring symptoms of a corrupt system built on white supremacy. From the “superpredator” media labeling of a generation ago—when locking up Black youth was justified as a means of dealing with their alleged predisposition to violence—to “quality-of-life” law enforcement aimed at gentrifying communities and marginalizing Black people in cities, African-Americans are continually treated with suspicion.
Moreover, white privilege has effectively derailed any discussion of “white crime” from the larger public debate. In the wake of the George Zimmerman acquittal, a case that hinged on insinuations that Trayvon Martin was a thug who deserved to die, racists have again shifted the cultural discourse to one where people of color are to be feared.
Press reports have taken many extremes, from the arch-conservative WorldNetDaily promoting self-published “Black mob violence” writer and white supremacist underground darling Colin Flaherty to mainstream conservatives trotting out claims of “race war” against whites and racial double standards premised around the idea that African-Americans assault whites while the “liberal media” covers it up. Such ideas regularly seep into news reports. In August, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel claimed “dozens to hundreds of black youths attacked white people.”
The implications against African-Americans are more than rhetoric, but have created a climate that permits politicians to railroad to prison, kill and shut out Black people from political life. When society is taught by the ruling class that African-American youth are intent on unprovoked attacks, the outcomes are sure to be disastrous for Black communities around the United States.
It is unclear at this writing what justice Barrett, DePew and Simms, all facing prosecution, will see for assaulting or scapegoating African-Americans. However, one thing is clear: the racist capitalist system and its political operatives are undoubtedly guilty of criminalizing Black youth in the knockout game hysteria.