Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Teens punch random pedestrians in 'knockout' game in U.S. cities

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NEW YORK -- Police in New York, Washington and Jersey City are investigating whether recent attacks on pedestrians are part of a violent game called "knockout," where the goal is to target pedestrians and knock them unconscious with one punch.

Authorities say the game has been around for years, and it's played mostly by teenage boys. At least two deaths have been linked to the game this year.

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

"It's hard to excuse this behaviour," said Jeffrey Butts, a psychologist specializing in juvenile delinquency at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "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."

New York's hate crimes task force is investigating because some attacks have been against Orthodox Jews. While some victims have been white, and some suspected attackers black, experts said the incidents are more about preying on the helpless.

"It's about someone who is seemingly helpless, and choosing that person to target," Butts said.

One victim in Washington, Phoebe Connolly, said she was randomly punched in the face by a teenager while riding her bike. "I don't know what the goal was," she said. "There wasn't any attempt to take anything from me."

A recent media blitz about the game isn't helping, experts said.

"The behaviour of the sudden assault of someone who seems helpless has appealed to the idiotic impulsive quality of adolescence forever," 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 on TV and online."

The best punishment for these teens would be empathy training, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter, experts said. A New York lawmaker proposed a bill this week that would make stricter sentences not only for those who do the punching, but for those who publish images online and watch the attacks.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 22, 2013 A23

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