A game of violence

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A spate of assaults largely in the northeast over the last month has led to the popular notion that U.S. cities are experiencing a growing trend of attacks by youths playing the “knockout game.” The perpetrator plays this violent and potentially deadly game just for kicks, attempting to knock a victim unconscious with one blow to the face.

What is evident about the attacks is that most have taken place in New York, and that in the borough of Brooklyn, the majority of the victims have been Jews. This has led to concern that Jews are being targeted in the knockout game. The attacks have raised the specter of the Crown Heights Riots of 1991, after a black child was hit and killed by a driver in the motorcade of the Lubavitcher rebbe.

The New York Police Department, Brooklyn politicians and the local Jewish community are all responding to the attacks. The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York announced a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction, or a finding of delinquency, of individuals responsible for these kinds of assaults. The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force was reported to be investigating at least seven attacks. The investigations have led to Amrit Marajh, 28 (not quite a “youth”), being charged with harassment as a hate crime for allegedly punching a Jewish man on Nov. 22.

But it remains unclear whether there is a concerted effort to target Jews, and whether the perpetrators are playing the knockout game when they attack. While the fact of each attack is troubling, a coordinated series of attacks against a targeted set of victims makes things even worse. But in the absence of real evidence of orchestrated actions, might we just be seeing a series of upsetting attacks that have been strung together by the media?

The police say there isn’t enough data to say. But the fear of becoming a victim to this peculiar crime is real. We commend the police for taking this phenomenon seriously, and for acting on the possibility that the perpetrators are targeting Jews in their attacks. Such actions are contemptible and must be stopped, whether they are isolated or coordinated.

At the same time, it shouldn’t be forgotten that overall crime in the United States is at the lowest it’s been since the 1960s. And knockout attacks are a tiny fraction of assaults carried out. That said, the attacks are real; their consequences are severe; and the fear they engender is genuine. It is time to put a stop to random acts of violence.

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