Most of you reading this are not likely to be knocked out by a gang of "savage" urban youth, (which often is code for brown-skinned youth) and there are many reasons statistical and circumstantial why you reading this aren't likely to be randomly assaulted.
Have you ever punched someone? If so, was he or she a stranger? You have to be a little stupid to hit a stranger, it's terrifying for the sane mind, especially when you the potential attacker are not being threatened.
I know this because I've assaulted a person.
When I was a kid I participated in what is being categorized by children and news media as "knockout or knockout games", I'm serious and I'm not proud of it.
I and the group of other teens I was with, hit two separate other boys, on separate occasions in different places. But the situation was the same, a large group of boys (if you asked us if we were a gang, only the most desperate for attention in the motley crew would have said "yes") against a smaller group or single boy. We didn't have any title for this other than childhood. One assault happened in the streets after being let out of Junior High School, once was in my high school. When we attacked the other kids or kid, punches were thrown. I hit a kid whose name I didn't even know. Bruised we left the kid and went on to similar trouble. In our teenaged minds, this was just what you did. Structural it's what you felt you had to do when your more alpha "friends" started an action, you left or you followed. Since leaving usually marked you as a future target you stayed. I was also assaulted on separate occasions, three times with a different friends, and when I was alone, I was robbed about five times in the Brooklyn streets. Twice I witnessed people within 50 feet of me being robbed at gun-point. Most everyone involved was under the age of 20 I'm nearly certain. That's life in an area where youth crime isn't controlled.
When I was a kid in the prehistoric 1980's this was childhood. I'm willing to bet you can find instances of the same or very similar behavior in the 1970's 60's 50's, 40's 30's… etc in Brooklyn, the five boroughs and on farms, reservations and tundra across the country. I know hard nosed italian descended kids who occasionally randomly violent attacked other kids during the 70's around Fort Hamilton and New Utrecht, I've heard stories from old gnarled characters of irish kids doing the same decades earlier.
For me the mixture of guilt, shame, fear of being a life-failure and arrest, grown out of a very law-abiding up-bringing (constant attempts by guardians and care-takers to keep my on a straight path) and my personal character eventually convinced me to avoid criminal acts. I had vision of my future, and I wanted to make sure I was around to get there.
Today there are internet video sites and apps, some essentially as organized as TV channels twenty years ago, that have entire compilations of the relatively small amounts of heinous random crime that happens around the country. There's a mixture of causes, sensational promotion of violence and criminal action heavy among them, that many frustrated youth if given an unsupervised opportunity, will be aroused by.
Instead of addressing the mixture of causes relevant in the New York City assaults, most media reports blare widely of "knockout games", because it causes incendiary sparks like a spectacular lightning bolt. the reports have lit fires under local politicians and reporters and of course the hot bacteria of argument has sent the virus round and round.
There are obvious reasons why this story is so hot and viral. no one wants to randomly attacked, and yet it's probably the biggest fear of any long term and especially new coming new york resident. we can't prepare for the random, so when we hear of these types of attacks, we have to consider we might be a future victim. that isn't necessarily true and I'll explain why in a moment but first since we all can't keep from looking at a story we think relates to us, we put our eyes on TV, and into newspapers and definitely online, an web hits go up, and paper sales go up and local TV ratings improve and that of course guarantees even more stories about the subject which makes us near certain it's an epidemic.
I live in Crown Heights. I've seen the footage of teens and young adults randomly punching stranger. I recognize the streets, I've known them for over thirty years. Yet when I wander the streets late at night with writers' block or an under done bit of potatoe to work out, I don't see roving bands of criminal intent youth. When I stand on Kingston, Nostrand, (definitely not Franklin) Eastern Parkway, and Utica, I don't see these supposed ubiquitous menaces. Probably because as horrible an act of uncivilized criminality as it is, it isn ubiquitous. It's street crime which has generally gone down every few years since the mid 1990's. It's not a new game that going on, it's a mugging same as it ever was.
Mobile Devices with cameras. Security Cameras. Red light cameras. Cameras. Did kittens become amazingly more cute and entertaining in the last 13 years or do we have more cameras. It's easy to over blow a phenomena when you have multiple cameras recording multiple angles of solitary actions.
So the story is hot and viral because we haven't gotten over the fear that embedded itself deep in us since the World Trade Center attack in 2001, 2003 blackout, 2008 financial meltdown, and most recently the 2012 hurricane. We expect some bad new thing can be coming and its not hard to feed that subconscious fear.
I also suggest there's another thing at play here; whats the hottest local political issue in New York City, is it not Stop & Frisk? After years of popular opinion in favor of abolishing the practice, those in favor of violating civil rights in the name of policing haven't had a leg to stand on. Nothing to show their contention that there is an extreme threat in the streets requiring extreme measures. nothing to strike fear in the hearts of fair-minded people and turn away their eyes from the deer like visage of the incoming Mayor's congenially Afro'd son. Until now. If you are fair minded and you don't think there are people who see "Knockout" games as simply the other side of "Stop & Frisk" ("Stop & Frisk" thank god we have popular media to boil complex ideas down into marquee titles) then meet me on Roebling tonight with your debit card, I have a bridge to show you.
Between story that makes news media money primarily off of yours (and their) fears, and an opposition to public policy finally finding suitable (and witless) messengers, the story of Roaming gangs playing Knock-Out Games is here.
With colder temperatures and higher concentrated policing the reports will taper off soon, but just after the drop in tax season stories next April, the moment there is a street crime resembling it, knock-out stories will be back up off the canvas.
In 2012 there were less than 700 reported assaults/robberies in New York City. Presume that's half the total and there may have been for the sake of argument 1500 hundred assaults in New York City in 2012, most of these happened in the same areas, most happened among people in the same peer groups. Terrible if you're a victim but you in a city of 8 million the odds are against most of people being attacked, depending of course on the neighborhood.
What gets under reported is that most of the crimes, happen in the same crime-likely areas. Many of the unfortunate victims seen in video footage, though not all, were like many of us, unaware of their surroundings, making them easier targets, and unaware they were being targeted. And my experience in the streets leads me to believe many people including myself are assaulted in a big urban environment when we are in the company of frustrated violent people who see we are not on-guard. In a city of 8 million people, millions of the people who pass us by could have some ill-intent. Our personal vigilance, our choice of street, often, thought not always, casts us as unappealing choices for assault. Is it your fault if someone attacks you, of course not. But we have a responsibility to ourselves to recognize when someone is a danger to us.
If you find yourself in an area that is unsettling to you, and a group approaches you, and then seem to be remotely aware of you, you need to walk away. is it your fault there are people in the world who cause problems, no, but it is your responsibility to be aware of your surrounds, so when you see people who are going to cause problems you can get your self clear of it. That means, not being so engrossed in your phone call, or words with friends, that you don't see a punch coming.
That suggestion comes from my experiences and the experiences of people I've grown up with in New York City. Each time I've been assaulted I was a teen, or more recently too unaware of my surrounds to realize I'd walked into a bad situation. There have been many more times where I feel confident, on a subway, a dark street, the person or persons walking toward me was looking to see what might happen, and a dry, but an unwelcoming stare from me, made me unappealing.
When crime happens in new york city, some of us like to engage in what I like to call crime victim fantasy role-play, "will it be me", or "I was just on the street" is the type of prattle I hear in local conversations after a crime happens. Understandable reaction to shock, but so what. Besides an opportunity to unleash our narcissism these crimes allow us to demonize the other, because its easy and if we are the hero of our story of course, the nebulous generic black/urban attacker is the villain. This to me is a lesser but still tragic by product of these stories.
What gets lost in the news media's sensationalizing, the local politician's ham fisted attempts to explain, and the citizens narcissism, is that most of these violent acts are committed by children. 12, 15, 18 lets be realistic. if they are roaming the streets in a group on a school night, and stupid enough to choose punching a stranger, committing a crime, recording, sending it to the world, they are clearly children who have yet to mature, and they've possibly been clear of the mechanisms of maturation, school, consistent goal oriented parenting, positive organization membership) for years. that is not an excuse, but it is important to realize because, possibly, they are not totally lost as potential contributing members of our society, and most likely, despite the type of opinions found in the comment sections of the new york post, these kids aren't going to "kill them selves off" they will however, if they don't change course, continue to be a social, economic and potentially criminal drain on themselves, and the rest of the city.
For the problem of youth violence and apathy, there should be easier access and greater awareness of organizations in the community where decent level headed parents, aunts, uncles and or grandparents can go to say, make no mistake there are plenty of broken families in poor neighborhoods in our city, and they require more effort than just a phone number or a meeting.
If we as a city, and in these neighborhoods want to address the local crisis of idle youth turning to uncivilized criminal actions, then we need to create an enormous effort. we need to devote time in meeting, planning and doing. we need to give the families, of these children a clear sign that we will work with them to turn a situation out of hand back into a reasonable direction. because if we don't police ourselves, from within, we will be policed, without the compassion that comes from community understanding. if we don't steer our community's kids in prosperous civil direction, our kids will be policed from a perspective of an unforgiving criminal justice system. No matter how tall, arrogant, frightening our community's children seem to others and salacious news reports, they are children. If our children encounter the criminal justice system out there in the streets as a result of their ignorance, they are lost and our future parents, home-owners, community leaders are lost and then we're all gone.
I didn't want to post this blog not due to the subject, but because I felt I hadn't made enough writing passes to be sure my point was clear. It's important how I present these posts because I want them to communicate effectively. I started this post over the weekend after a frustrating thought about how much control and power and organization we allow unstructured chaotic elements in our society to have over our mindset, often because of a mix of our personal fear and societal bias. My reason for being resistant to posting has everything to due with a sudden tragedy I learned about last night Tuesday just about 15 hours ago. The the youngest member of my immediate family, a baby, was murdered.
I can't understand it. I can't really understand what I wrote in that sentence. The baby's killing had noting to do with viral trends, or this thing some call "knockout", it didn't even happen in this state. But it has shocked me in a way that I thought a life time of serious tragedies had steeled me against.
There does seem to me to be a relation between this current trend and the crime against a child so young I never met them, a pattern of poor, unguided, ill-conceived judgements, cultivated through a life that wasn't never challenged to do more. In my family there is a stunned grieving parent. My relative is totally innocent of the crime, however my opinion is choices made by my relative, choices of social circle, choices of lifestyle, choices of how much responsibility to apply to that life, contributed to our personal tragedy. I feel firmly that we need to punish the incorrigible and give a hand to those drowning, even in their own turbulent sea, not just cast the entire lot off hoping those who are misguided sinking to the bottom of their troubles and out of sight.
To paraphrase what until that horrible news last night had been the end of this post, If our children encounter crisis in their lives at an early age that result in lack of guidance, apathy, little effort on their part, giving up on a positive direction as a result of their ignorance, and then our easy dismissal, instead of presuming they can be better, then the become the that. It's a lock as soon as we presume no hope and give up on those who still have time to improve. That's what most people under twenty, not all, have, time. If we all in one way or another embrace their failures as normal, they are lost and our future parents, home-owners, community leaders are lost and then we're all gone.
Sometimes sooner and closer than we expect.