Knockout Game: Punches Have Turned Deadly

NEW YORK (AP/Hamodia) -

In New York, a 78-year-old woman strolling in her neighborhood was punched in the head by a stranger and tumbled to the ground. In Washington, a 32-year-old woman was swarmed by teenagers on bikes, and one clocked her in the face. In Jersey City, a 46-year-old man died after someone punched him and he struck his head on an iron fence.

In each case, police are investigating whether the attacks, committed mostly by African-American youths, are part of a violent game called “knockout,” where the object is to target unsuspecting pedestrians with the intention of knocking them out cold with one punch. Authorities and psychologists say the concept has been around for years and it’s played mostly by impulsive teenage boys looking to impress their friends.

“It’s hard to excuse this behavior, there’s no purpose to this,” said Jeffrey Butts, a psychologist specializing in juvenile delinquency. “When someone runs into a store and demands money, you can sort of understand why they’re doing it — desperation, whatever. But just hitting someone for the sheer thrill of seeing if you can knock someone out is just childish.”

At least two deaths have been linked to the game this year and police have seen a recent spike in similar attacks. Even more dastardly is that teens stand around after the attack and laugh, congratulating the perpetrator.

Juvenile delinquency experts say the best punishment would be empathy training, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter. But a New York lawmaker proposed a bill this week that would establish stricter sentences not only for those who do the punching, but for those who publish images online and watch the attacks.

“These twisted and cowardly thugs are preying on innocent bystanders and they don’t care if the victims are young, old, a man or woman,” Assemblyman Jim Tedisco said, announcing what would be the first such bill in the nation. “These are real people whose lives are not only being put in jeopardy but in many cases destroyed.”

Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn Democrat representing the Midwood district where the 78-year-old woman was knocked out, wants President Barack Obama to tackle the attacks.

“This is a national issue,”Hikind said. “People have died in New York, New Jersey, Minnesota and Missouri. Others have been badly injured and suffered psychological damage. And it’s spreading.”

The NYPD deployed additional officers to Crown Heights, where at least seven attacks occurred in the past few weeks. The hate crimes task force is investigating because the attacks were against Orthodox Jews.

A recent national media blitz about the game isn’t helping, experts said, especially because images of victims in a dead fall are being repeatedly broadcast.

The footage comes from older incidents. In one instance from 2012, 50-year-old Pittsburgh English teacher James Addlespurger was punched in the face and falls to the curb. The image was caught on surveillance cameras, and a 15-year-old was arrested.

“The behavior of the sudden assault of someone who seems helpless has appealed to the … impulsive quality of adolescence,” said Butts. “But in the last 10 years, they’ve given a name to this, and there are now bragging rights beyond your immediate circle” when this is broadcast.