A slew of stories has come out in recent weeks about a dangerous “game” that people, mostly kids, have started playing. It involves the game-player punching someone in the face, unprovoked, with the goal of knocking out their victim. It’s called, say media outlets, “the knockout game.”
There’s just one problem, though: It might not be real.
Panic over the knockout game seems to have grown after a local news report in Jersey City showed young black kids with blurred faces explaining the game. “They just want to see if you have enough strength to knock somebody out,” says one kid in the video. The game was linked with other reports of random violence, particularly a spate of punching incidents in Brooklyn that had been qualified as hate crimes.
But the term was actually used as far back as 2011, in St. Louis, Missouri, after a few incidents — one where a group of kids who called themselves “The Knock Out clan” (TKO), beat up a 51-year-old man. And it’s not the only way to describe this so-called game. It’s also been called “polar bear hunting,” an allusion to the race of the victims — white.
The term “polar bear hunting” actually seems to have originated back in 2010, in Illinois, where a newspaper said of some random attacks there, “Earlier reports indicated a slang term of ‘polar bear hunting’ for these attacks, but police officials say that term is not evident in the recent attacks.” Conservative fringe blogs and racist websites quickly latched onto the term and have been using it since. Most recently, it was used to describe the killing of young white teen Christopher Lane on the conservative site American Thinker:
Sadistic activities such as “Knock-out King,” “Polar Bear Hunting,” “Apple Picking” etc. are favorite pastimes in urban America. Unfortunately, the destructive tenets of this dysfunctional subculture have now manifested in Duncan, Oklahoma, where Blacks are a mere three-percent of its population.
Conservative sites have similarly caught on to the newest media frenzy over what is now being called the “knockout game.” Often, though, they use the term to reference targeted muggings, not just random violence, lending credence to the idea that it is more a racial characterization than about the type of violent act itself.
In fact, police are not even certain that these incidents are connected, or that this widespread, trendy game based on knocking out strangers is real at all. A Jersey City police spokesperson told the New York Times, “If there ever was an urban myth, this was it.” And even Ray Kelly, the police commissioner of New York City who is notorious for his Stop & Frisk policy that targets Black and Latino men, said, “We’re trying to determine whether or not this is a real phenomenon.”
Kelly is also worried that bringing attention to the trend isn’t necessarily a good thing. “When you highlight an incident, or a type of criminal activity, some people will simply try to copy,” he said.