Slate has spoken. [I Was a Victim of the Fake "Knockout Game" Trend, Slate.com, 11-25-13]
|Matt Quain: Back in 2011, the mythical black 'knockout game' struck in St. Louis|
There is no ‘knockout game’ attacks, where a white individual is attacked by either a black individual or a gang of black people (many times labeled teens or youths in news stories).
Slate has spoken, twice. [Sorry, Right-Wing Media: The "Knockout Game" TrendIs a Myth, Slate.com, 11-25-13]
It's hard to judge how bad a problem the so-called "knockout game"really is. But because it has resulted in the death of 72-year-old man, left at least a half a dozen other people injured and reinforced fears about the safety of city neighborhoods, it's bad enough.
Roving bands of teenagers slugging people just for the hell of it? That takes us into "A Clockwork Orange" territory.
You've got a police captain talking about a "trend of sub-human behavior [that] defies predictive analysis because the attacks happen in different places, on different days and at different times."In the last 15 months, police said, seven such attacks have taken place in neighborhoods around Tower Grove Park and South Grand. There were incidents in 2006 and 2007 in Carr Square and Dutchtown. There may well have been other assaults not tagged as "knockout" incidents or that went unreported.
Predictably, some people who work with young people point to a lack of recreational opportunities and quality education programs. Mayor Francis Slay, who rolled up on one victim on Oct. 21 just in time to see his attackers saunter away, is enraged at the thought."You can provide all the recreational programs and quality educational programs every day," he said, "but ultimately each and every individual has a personal responsibility to respect each other and saying they're bored is not an excuse, it's a cop-out, and that's a problem in and of itself."Reporter Denise Hollinshed of the Post-Dispatch talked to some kids outside of Roosevelt High School, one of whom acknowledged that he'd taken part in the "knockout king" game."Knockout king is a thrill," the kid told her. "It makes you want to keep doing it every day."Sure, the kid said, he knew he could hurt somebody. But he added, "You don't know them, so why care about hurting them?"That's a chilling statement. It reflects an almost sociopathic lack of empathy.On the other hand, the more you think about it, it perfectly captures today's zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.
Black ministers, businessmen and community leaders have been working since February on a plan dubbed "Call to Oneness" to reduce crime and violence and resurrect struggling neighborhoods in St. Louis.They have called it nothing short of a "state of emergency" that demands immediate attention."It's really awesome to see the black community come together for a peaceful purpose," said Shannon Malone, 27, of suburban University City as she held her toddler. "There's an urgency to stop all these homicides."As the march neared Tandy Park, where organizers challenged the crowd to be accountable to one another, 56-year-old retired carpenter James Bailey said the solution is simple."We need to show young people we have to learn to love one another," he said. "We need more community activities. We need to take back our society as men. And we need to pray a little more for one another. There's only one race, the human race."
The unmistakable pop of a gunshot ricocheted through the park in the humid air, and Montez Wayne could only hope that the bullet did not have his name on it. He sprang from his seat beneath a sprawling bald cypress, ready to make his move.Was today the day?He had seen it play out too many times before: the blast of gunfire, the blood, the body. In Mr. Wayne’s neighborhood and others on the North Side of St. Louis, drugs, poverty and struggle go hand in hand with gun violence. He barely knows his father. His mother died when he was 14, around the time he started selling drugs. His list of dead friends grows each year.Mr. Wayne lives in a poor, mostly black community, where, as in similar neighborhoods across America, residents are fed up with persistent gun violence. Victims die one by one, or in clusters. In Chicago, 23 people were shot in a matter of hours in September, 13 of them in a park in a gang-related attack. Three died.
Some communities have begun their own initiatives. The 21st Ward was the first to install street surveillance cameras, spending $600,000 out of the ward’s capital improvement budget on 25 of them. A 46-inch flat-screen television in a community center shows footage from every camera, but no one currently monitors them full time. Shortly after they went up two years ago, one camera caught a drive-by shooting. The police caught the assailants a short time later, said Antonio French, the ward’s alderman.
City officials have begun to recognize the problem. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce acknowledges the existence of Knockout King, based on admissions by five defendants. Most of those defendants were charged with misdemeanor assaults, Joyce says. One incident transpired in Tower Grove Park, another in Carondelet. A third involved a kid riding a skateboard who attacked a woman in the Central West End. "He just blindsided her," says Joyce. "She was seriously injured."The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, too, knows of the violent ritual. "The 'knockout game' is played by a group of kids who, as outrageous as it sounds, go around with the goal of knocking people out, for apparently no reason," says Chief Daniel Isom. The department came to that determination about a year ago, says Isom, who adds that he doesn't consider the violent activity to be widespread. "Based on our intelligence, we believe it's an isolated group of maybe five to nine kids," he says.Local teens say it's far more popular than that."I'd say maybe ten to fifteen percent of kids play Knockout King," says Aaron Davis, who's eighteen and lives in south city, adding that he never took part. "It's not a whole school, but it's a nice percentage."Some former participants maintain Davis' estimate is too low."Everybody plays," says eighteen-year-old Brandon Demond, a former participant who provided only his first and middle names for publication."It's a game for groups of teens to see who can hit a person the hardest," explains Brandon, who's standing with a group of friends on Grand Boulevard as a police officer listens nearby. "It's a bunch of stupid-ass little dudes in a group, like we are now. See this dude walkin' up behind me?" — Brandon gestures to a longhaired man walking toward him on the sidewalk — "we could just knock him out right now."Much of the city's violent crime is associated with rougher pockets of north city; for example, 111 of the 144 homicides in the city last year — roughly 77 percent — occurred north of Delmar Boulevard. But Knockout King goes on more frequently in south city, as well as in other neighborhoods that see heavy foot traffic, such as downtown and the Delmar Loop.
Matthew Quain still struggles to piece together what happened after a trip to the grocery store nearly turned deadly. He remembers a group of loitering young people, a dimly lit street then nothing. The next thing he knew he was waking up with blood pouring out of his head.The 51-year-old pizza kitchen worker’s surreal experience happened just before midnight earlier this year, when he became another victim of what is generally known as “Knockout King” or simply “Knock Out,” a so-called game of unprovoked violence that targets random victims.The rules of the game are as simple as they are brutal. A group usually young men or even boys as young as 12, and teenage girls in some cases chooses a lead attacker, then seeks out a victim. Unlike typical gang violence or other street crime, the goal is not revenge, nor is it robbery. The victim is chosen at random, often a person unlikely to put up a fight. Many of the victims have been elderly. Most were alone.The attacker charges at the victim and begins punching. If the victimgoes down, the group usually scatters. If not, others join in, punching and kicking the person, often until he or she is unconscious or at least badly hurt. Sometimes the attacks are captured on cellphone video that is posted on websites.“These individuals have absolutely no respect for human life,” St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said.Slay knows firsthand. He was on his way home from a theater around 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 21 when he saw perhaps a dozen young people casually crossing a street. He looked to the curb and saw Quain sprawled on the pavement.Slay told his driver to pull over. They found Quain unconscious, blood pouring from his head and mouth.Quain was hospitalized for two days with a broken jaw, a cracked skull and nasal cavity injuries. He still has headaches and memory problems but was finally able to return to work earlier this month.Hundreds gathered in November for a fundraiser at the restaurant where he works, Joanie’s Pizza, but he still doesn’t know how he’ll pay the medical bills.
The police captain couldn't believe it. He had the Knockout King in his office.It was September 2011, and police were struggling to get a handle on a series of vicious knockout assaults in south St. Louis. Groups of teens were cold-cocking older pedestrians at random. One was dead, several injured. Residents were alarmed, police baffled. It didn't make sense, such a cruel and cowardly crime.Now, sitting in Capt. Jerry Leyshock's office was an important key to the mystery: the Knockout King. That was the teen's nickname, said the four other young men also swept up that night by police after yet another assault. They sat inside South Patrol headquarters. And the ringleader, they said, happened to be right over there.Leyshock took stock of the young man in his office. The kid looked 17 or 18. He was stocky, his hair cut in short dreadlocks. He wore a hooded sweatshirt. The captain, who coached youth boxing, thought he recognized the teen as a boxer from the Cherokee Recreation Center. The teen, for now, revealed little. Then he mentioned he was 16, a juvenile. Too young to talk with police alone. The interview was over.In a moment, the teens would be released. But first, Leyshock, in his white dress shirt and black tie, gold badge on his chest, leaned in close."I think it's a safe bet we're going to pay you a visit whenever a knockout case comes up," the captain said.The meeting with the Knockout King would turn out to be a crucial break in a crime that hadn't occurred yet — a case of cavalier brutality that would shock a city, especially after the accused attackers were set free.On Oct. 21, Matt Quain, 52, a dishwasher, was severely beaten in a knockout assault on South Grand Boulevard. The mayor helped rescue him. Seven middle schoolers, some as young as 12, were arrested. Then, at a juvenile court hearing in January, the main witness, a 13-year-old classmate of the defendants, failed to show up. The case was tossed out.The kids celebrated. Others howled."People all over the city of St. Louis are outraged over this," Mayor Francis Slay said.The case seemed to captivate the city with a series of difficult questions: Why was this happening? How would it stop? Was witness intimidation a factor?The story of how police cracked the case, only to see it fall apart, shows the unusual challenges posed by knockout assaults, as well as the communitywide frustrations. The crimes were rare, but terrorizing. These were not muggings. Something else was at play here. It was a matter of finding out what, even if the answers were unsettling.
The teenager shot and killed by a homeowner while allegedly breaking into the man’s house had been in the news before. In fact, FOX2 has learned, he was once charged in the case that made the phrase “knockout game” common in St. Louis.
Demetrius Murphy, 15, died Friday morning after he and another teen, Michael Bryant, allegedly tried to break into a man’s home on Tennessee. Police say the homeowner emerged with a gun. Bryant ran, but they say Murphy confronted him and was shot and killed.
When it happened, the ears of Matt Quain perked up. It was back in 2011 that Quain and a friend were walking along Grand, returning from a “beer run” to Schnucks, when they say a group of teens jumped them. Quain was beaten badly, suffering neck injuries and a broken jaw. He was discovered bleeding in the street by Mayor Francis Slay and his security guard.
Murphy, just thirteen at the time, was the one identified by Quain as his attacker. Sources tell Fox 2 that Murphy was headed to trial in the “knockout game” case, but a young witness suddenly refused to testify, forcing the charges to be dropped.Quain sees what happened to Murphy as part of a circle of violence that needs to be stopped.
“Ya know, I’m not happy that somebody died,” he said Monday. “I just wish there was more that people could do to put an end to it. Whatever it takes, more cops, whatever.