Debunking American Exceptionalism IV: Declining Educational Achievement
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“Knockout” Game Latest Example of our Sick Society

What can we say about a society where beating others for the thrill of it is acceptable behavior?

I’ve become aware over the past few months that most of my blogs deal with the cultural shift in America over the years from respect for each other, treating others the way we want to be treated, personal responsibility, and accountability for one’s actions. The ‘good old’ days’ when shame and conscience helped to keep our actions in check, especially young people without a moral code, have given way to actions taken without the thought of consequences and acting out of self-aggrandizement.

There are many instances where what I describe has become endemic in our society. One of the worst examples is the continued increasing trend towards cyber-bullying in schools and targeting school-mates outside of school. Now, we hear of “knockout” incidents where teens playing a game appear to randomly sucker-punch strangers with the goal of knocking them unconscious with a single blow. It’s not who is attacked but how well the attackers play the game.

Knockout has been reported in several states. The assaults can be fatal. In New Jersey, Ralph Santiago, 46, a homeless man, was walking alone in Hoboken on the night of September 10 when he was suddenly struck from behind. The blow knocked out Santiago, who had a pre-existing brain injury. He suffered a seizure. The victim's body struck a nearby fence, with part of the wrought iron fence piercing his body and killing him. Surveillance video in the area showed three teens running from the scene. Two weeks later, police arrested the juveniles and charged them in connection with the killing.

In October 2012, an English teacher, James Addlespurger, was strolling through an alley in Pittsburgh to his parked car when he was approached by a group of teens. One of the teens punched Addlespurger in the face. The teacher fell and struck his head on the concrete ground. The assault, like so many others, was caught on video surveillance tape, and a 15-year-old was later arrested.

These incidents seem arbitrarily determined. There's no robbery, there's no rhyme or reason; it's just simply youths making a decision they're going to punch somebody out — sometimes as simple as $5 bet between themselves.

Seventeen-year-old Marvel Weaver admits he played a version of the knockout game using a stun gun. He was caught and is now in jail. 

"It was a lesson learned," according to an interview Weaver had with USA Today. "Someone throws it out there: 'Want to play this?' And people go along with it and one thing leads to another, and it just goes all downhill."

Fueled by Internet videos of the beatings, “knockout” attacks have also been reported in several states. In New York, it has been labeled a hate crime in one instance where an orthodox Jew was punched out, while at least six Jewish people have been attacked as part of a knockout game in the three weeks leading to the start of Hanukkah today.

In New York City, a man arrested for playing the knockout game has been charged with a hate crime. Police believe the victim was targeted because he's Jewish. Now, as these videos end up on YouTube, officials are worried about copycat attacks in cities nationwide.

What I found very interesting is the response to these events by the so-called experts. It’s the blame game. Blame society for its incessant violence and a culture of self-indulgent behavior. Wait, maybe’s it’s the parents fault for failing to properly monitor their youth’s activities (Good luck with that one in today’s society). Perhaps we are all to blame, especially the media, for bringing attention to negative behavior and giving the knockout thugs what they want – attention, notoriety, and a viral video of the pathetic activity of the knockout game that speaks to the depravity in today’s society.

The most alarming response is that of youth violence expert Chuck Williams, who blamed the media and parents for what he called extreme aggression by America's youth. Negative attention, he said, is often rewarded.

"That's America. America loves violence and so do our kids," Williams said. "We market violence to our children and we wonder why they're violent. It's because we are."

Williams, a professor of psychology and education at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said some young people are desperate for attention. He called it the "Miley Cyrus effect," where teens will do anything to get noticed, no matter how heinous or unconscionable.

"These kids know the consequences," he said. "They want to get arrested. They want to get caught, because they want that notoriety. They know they won't go away forever because they're kids. It's a win-win all around for them."

How do we start to deal with the problem of our youngsters beating innocent people for no reason at all? Or, that one or more students are caught cyber-bullying other students to the point of driving them to suicide? And, what about the vicious crimes including school shootings that seem to occur because of a mental health problem that goes unrecognized or un-diagnosed?

As with any other problem of this magnitude, the first step is recognizing a problem exists and defining its parameter. I believe we’re working around the edges of this issue but still can’t identify the causes/factors that lead to the offensive behavior well enough to develop an approach to dealing with the problem. We need to start to do just this through meaningful dialogue by our leaders. Enough with the failed Obamacare system. What about the failed moral system in our society?

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 27, 2013