A Violent Racist Game Claims More Victims

One man was stomped to death and another man nearly killed in a racist amusement called the "knock-out game," played almost exclusively by black teenagers.  The victims were both white, and that fact needs to be raised in our national conversation about race.

PC disclaimer: only a small fraction of teenagers play this game, and the vast majority of blacks obviously do not condone violence of any kind.  With that established, consider the facts:

Half-brothers Elliott T. Murphy, 18, and Deonta "Fuss" Johnson, 16, were recently convicted of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in the heinous stomping death of 61-year-old Jerry Newingham and the stomping attack of 46-year-old Kevin S. Wilson.  The two convicted were part of a group of 9, all black.  Their two victims were white.  The brutal murder took place in Decatur, IL, a place commonly known as "a classic Midwest USA small city."  They group was playing the "knock-out game."

The game is as cruel and ignorant as it sounds.  The only rule is to pick a victim and try to knock them out.  The group of black teens in Decatur discussed playing the game, before going out and finding a random victim for their unprovoked attack.  They called it the "point 'em out, knock 'em out" game.

After being let out of school, the teens began their fun.  They "randomly" selected a white person to play along.  The teens punched, kicked, and then jumped on and stomped their first victim, Mr. Newingham.  He never regained consciousness after being mauled by the teens.

Seventy minutes later, the group beat up Kevin Wilson, who also just happened to be white.  One witness said he saw Murphy jump on Wilson's head -- jumping with both feet.  That witness said that Wilson was not even moving during and after the attack.  Another witness, a 14-year-old girl, told a detective, "They were jumping on him like he was a trampoline, basically."

This is not the first time the game has been played.  Such attacks have been reported in Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, and New Jersey.  It was played on a large scale in Wisconsin, with as many as 18 suspects arrested for involvement.  Students in Chicago have produced a community service movie speaking out against the game.

The "game" is not always lethal, but sometimes it is.

In St. Louis earlier this year, a 72-year-old man named Hoang Nguyen was walking with his wife, Yen, when four "young people" approached them.  One first grabbed Hoang and moved his face to the side to make a "clear target for his fist," recalled his wife.  Nguyen was punched so hard that he fell to the ground and struck his head.  Then the attacker turned on Nguyen's 59-year-old wife, punching her so hard that she suffered a broken eye socket.  She could only watch as her husband was then kicked repeatedly by another one of the misunderstood youth.  Hoang succumbed to his injuries later that day.  A young black male, 18 years old, is charged with first-degree murder in that attack.

In general, the knockout game involves "unprovoked attacks on innocent bystanders," according to police who have had to deal with it.  A retired police officer explains, "Normally it was a group of black males, one of which would strike [the victim] as hard as he could in the face, attempting to knock him out with one punch."  The victims are typically not robbed, but simply punched with no provocation.  One would be hard-pressed to find an example of whites playing this "game."  Given the racial make-up of victims and attackers in this trend of crime, it makes sense to ask whether there is a racial motive involved.

Between the flash mobs and the knock-out game, we have very good reasons to reconsider the complexion racism in America.

Why is the racial make-up of these crimes the way it is?  Is it because non-blacks are more attractive as victims?  If so, then it would be accurate to say that non-blacks are being targeted.  Maybe they're not being targeted out of racial animosity, but surely any form of racial selection is by definition a racial problem.  

Are the victims non-black because non-blacks will have more to steal?  That explanation makes sense when there is a robbery, but many times there is not.  One thing is certain: if the races were switched, this game -- combined with the flash mobs -- would be considered a national crisis. We would be lecturing about our nation's rotten, racist soul if whites were playing this game.

Instead, the races are reversed, and there is resolute silence about the racial aspect of these attacks.

Of course, not all interracial crimes are necessarily racial, and not all racial crimes are hate crimes.  When a 68-year-old white woman named Sally Katona-King was pushed down a flight of steps and killed at a Chicago train station by a black teen named Prince Watson, that was not necessarily a racial crime.  Watson had just robbed a woman at the train stop.  As he was running away, he tried to jump over the 68-year-old woman, but instead knocked her down.  There is nothing clearly racial about that, in terms of motive or intent to target the victim because of her race.

In contrast, a group of young whites decided that they wanted to "go f**k with some n*****s," then later killed a black man named James Craig Anderson.  That will almost certainly be found a hate crime, and rightly so.  But that attack earned a special on CNN, while violence against non-blacks is not treated with the same level of attention, demonstrating a racial double standard that is quite troubling.  That double standard is seen most clearly in the scant coverage of the Wichita Massacre, and the Christian-Newsome killings.  Few people are even aware of the horror involved in those killings.

Of course, not every group has a habit of framing everything that happens in life in racial terms.  Not every group sees its interests in racial terms, and perhaps we should be grateful for that.  But if we're going to talk about the level of racism in America, we must make note of the disproportionate racial violence occurring.  Department of Justice statistics show that 33% of white murder victims are killed by a non-white, while only 8% of black murder victims are killed by a non-black.  Greater disparities exist in violent crimes and robbery (1).  Considering the population distribution, those disparities should trouble all of us, regardless of race.

While schools, politicians, and activists produce a steady drumbeat of criticism about white racism or "hate," there is much happening right in front of us to modify that narrative.

When 85-year-old Yoko Cullen of Belleville, IL, was burned alive in the trunk of her car by three black carjackers, race probably was a factor.  Those charged in her murder first abducted and carjacked her.  But why did they choose her, of all people?  Police say that she was probably an "easy target."  Funny -- that's exactly what a black teen in Wisconsin said when he was asked why he and hundreds of other blacks randomly beat whites at the state fair this month.

John Bennett (MA, University of Chicago, MAPSS '07) is a veteran, writer, and law student at Emory University living in Atlanta, GA.



1. Violent State Prisoners and Their Victims, Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics 5, July 1990 quoted in James B. Jacobs and Kimberly Potter, Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics 17 (1998).

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