Mixed Emotions About the ‘Knockout Game’


The “knockout” game has been a hot topic this past week, flooding Twitter timelines with YouTube clips and articles, sparking debates between friends and giving some people a reason to portray black youths as a detriment to society.


The game—if you can call it that—is the latest trend in violent acts committed by youths in urban areas. And the rules are simple. Spot a loner walking down the street and punch him or her with enough force to render that person unconscious. 

It’s disgusting, disturbing and outright criminal—so why do I have mixed feelings about it?

I was first introduced to this “game” when my boyfriend showed me a video depicting a teenage boy hitting an unsuspected man in the face, knocking him to the ground as the boy’s friend, in the background, cheered and called him “the one-hitter quitter,” as if he’d successfully knocked out Manny Pacquiao in a championship fight. The video then continues with various teens, with their faces blurred, explaining the objective of the game in a nonchalant manner, the same way they would if you’d asked them how to play their favorite video game.

At this point I was flushed with disgust, saying, “This is exactly why I despise teenagers.” Within a few seconds my disgust went to rage and heated anger as another news clip showed more teens playing the game in an alley. One punched a 50-year-old teacher in the face with a blow that resulted in his death. I had no witty or sarcastic comment to fill the dead air that surrounded me. My teeth were clenched and my stomach dropped.

A few days later The DCist wrote a quick blurb about a woman on 14th Street in Columbia Heights being the first reported victim in that part of Washington, D.C. She was punched in the back of the head but not knocked out, and along with anger, I experienced a new emotion: fear. The latest victim was not only in my city but in my neighborhood. Literally a few blocks from where I rest my head, on the same street that I find myself walking down to get to and from my apartment to the bus, Metro, Giant or Target, sometimes at nightfall.

I posted the article on Facebook and tried to laugh it off by saying that I was planning to take the 5-inch platform heel gathering dust under my desk and put in my purse to use as a weapon, just in case some wiseguys wanted to test me. In reality, if I ever fell victim to such circumstances, there’s no telling what my reaction would be. 

And I debated about it with a Facebook friend whose opinion I respect. He argued that spreading news about these isolated events would only give people a reason to continue profiling young black and Latino males. He brought up the stop-and-frisk policy implemented by the New York City Police Department, and how growing up a black male in the South automatically made him a target. And while his points made complete sense to me, I’ve never experienced those things firsthand.


My argument was that as a woman who relies on public transit—and her own two feet—to get around the city, I was mainly concerned about safety. Could he imagine this happening to his mother, sister or wife? Some may side completely with him, while others may side with me. A lot is at stake here, and the point is that both feelings toward this violent trend are valid.

Then it happened. Another victim, Phoebe Connolly, who’s white, was accosted while riding her bike. And though I hate to admit it, the fact that the latest victim looked nothing like me put me somewhat at ease as an African-American woman. Plus, as friends commented on social media, the targets of these local incidents, at least in D.C., are folks you likely wouldn’t have seen traveling through Columbia Heights after dark 10 years ago.


But am I safe just because I might remind these kids of their auntie, cousin or mother? 

Connolly ended up with a bloody nose. But when I saw her on the evening news, what stood out in her story was that a teenage girl in the group that attacked her had been doubled over laughing while the assault took place. Oh boy, I thought, here comes a new emotion: sadness.


I’m sad because, to a certain degree, we’ve failed our youth. We no longer have the “It takes a village” mentality. If we see a neighbor’s teenage daughter twerking, cursing and carrying on in the street, we walk right by, thinking, “Glad that’s not my child.” We’ve failed because we don’t fight for more free after-school programs that would provide our young people with a creative outlet and safe haven where they can be teens. Instead, they’ve resorted to creating violent games out of boredom.

What it all boils down to, for me, at least, is that we’re all somewhat responsible for the knockout game. Yes, these teens should know better than to take part in such foolishness. At the same time, though, I fear for my young black and brown brothers and sisters who, much like victims of stop and frisk, might be wrongfully accused of playing this game simply because they fit a particular description. And yes, part of me is still raw from the Trayvon Martin case.


I’m of two minds when it comes to this issue, but I hope and pray that a solution presents itself soon. Until then, nobody is safe—bored teens and innocent bystanders alike.

Leilah Reese is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter.