Politics & Policy

The History of ‘Knockout’

Unprovoked attacks by youth looking to do nothing except inflict pain have become an urban tradition.

As a 78-year-old woman walked down the street in Brooklyn, carrying her purse and bags, a young black male, about 20 years old, punched her in the head as hard as he could and ran away. The man said nothing and didn’t steal a single item.

This is one of the latest instances of “Knockout,” a “game” of evidently increasing popularity. Young people — sometimes female but usually male, predominantly black, in their teens to early 20s, in groups or alone — approach unsuspecting strangers and punch them in the head as hard as possible with the intention to knock them unconscious with a single blow. Sometimes the aggressors will rob the victim, but usually violence itself is the purpose of the attack. Some of the attackers have even recorded videos of their exploits.

At various times and places, the “game” has been called “Knockout,” “Knockout King,” “One-Hitter-Quitter,” “Pick ’Em Out and Knock ’Em Down,” “Knock ’Em and Drop ’Em,” and “Polar-Bear Hunting” (most likely in reference to whites). The attacks are unprovoked and often happen in broad daylight.

They can be deadly.

So far, six fatalities resulting from Knockout have been documented.  The first was of an MIT student in 1992, according to an Associated Press report. Yngve Raustein of Norway was approached by a group of teens who asked him what language he was speaking. They then proceeded to sucker-punch him in the face and rob him and his friend. Raustein immediately fell to the ground. When he tried to get up, the assailants stabbed him in the heart. Cambridge police at the time said that these attacks might be perpetrated by just a few kids.

The game was around before 1992, according to a St. Louis man named Askia who spoke with reporters in 2011. He described a similar game, “One-Hitter Quitter” (a name still used today), from the ’80s, when he was growing up. “We’d be out in the club or something and pick a random person and drop him to see if we could knock him out,” Askia said.

Former players have said that they did it for fun. Others speculate that the game is an attempt to demonstrate manhood and earn respect from peers.

After the murder in 1992, further reports of Knockout didn’t emerge until 2011, with the death of 72-year-old Hoan Nguyen. Nguyen, an immigrant from Vietnam, was walking down the street with his wife in St. Louis when an 18-year-old African American charged the couple, striking Hoan Nguyen directly in the face. He died later that day in the hospital. Soon after the Nguyen homicide, John H. Tucker of the Riverfront Times in St. Louis interviewed local youth who confessed to playing Knockout. The kids said it was popular, and one mother revealed that her son had played it as early as two years before the Nguyen incident. Some players were white; most were black.

Such attacks continued in St. Louis throughout that year, with ten known attacks over a 15-month period up to December 2011, including nonfatal attacks on two men, 73 and 51 years old. Reports of attacks began popping up elsewhere, including Illinois, Nevada, and Washington, D.C.

More reports of the game arose over the next two years, including two more deaths in 2012 and another two in 2013. Delfino Mora in Chicago and Colton Gleason in St. Cloud, Minn., were both fatally punched in the face. Mora, who was scavenging for recyclables before being assaulted, was found three hours after the attack on July 10 of this year. Blood was seeping from his nose. He died the next day. Gleason died in the hospital on September 21 within hours after he was attacked. Neither knew his attackers or had provoked the attack.

Two more people — Michael Daniels of Syracuse, N.Y., and Raphael Santiago of Hoboken, N.J. — were killed in May and September of 2013, respectively, in games of Knockout.

Further reports of Knockout have surfaced in the past week, including an assault in San Diego, the first reported on the West Coast. Recently, the attacks have been most prominent in Brooklyn, where eight victims, primarily white Jews, have been randomly targeted by black teens in games of, as New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly called it, “Knockout” and “Polarbearing.”

In all, incidents of “Knockout” have been reported in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Missouri, the District of Columbia, and now California. Most of the victims have been whites and Asians, and attackers tend to target Jews, immigrants, and the elderly in particular. Most of the attackers have been African American.

“This was purely a wanton incident,” said Rita, the daughter of the 78-year-old woman attacked in Brooklyn. “Someone wanted to inflict pain onto someone else, no other purpose.”

— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.


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