True story. A couple of years back, I was walking home at night on North Capitol Street here in Washington, D.C., when two dudes randomly assaulted me before running away without stealing anything. At the time, I didn’t think it was all that strange—I’ve lived in urban areas all my life, and plenty of people I know have been victims of anonymous street crime. The good news is that urban crime rates have been trending downward since I’ve been about 9 years old, so we’re making important progress in this regard.
The weird thing was that after I blogged briefly about this, a number of conservative bloggers, particularly those of a racist bent, decided that this wasn’t just one of many random acts of criminality that occur in the big city. No! It was an instance of “Knockout King,” which I suppose was the 2011 version of 2013’s more robust Knockout Game white racial panic.
But to be clear about something—insofar as there’s supposedly a “game” here where the contestant tries to knock someone out with one punch, that absolutely isn’t what happened. I was knocked down, but definitely not out, and then after that I got kicked a bunch of times. If you’re familiar with the phrase “don’t kick a man while he’s down,” take note—it really hurts quite a bit to be kicked while you’re down. In fact, this substantial deviation from the “rules” of the “game” is a lot of what made getting violently assaulted for no reason such a physically unpleasant experience. But for whatever reason, simply noting that aggravated assaults occur at a pace of more than one per minute nationwide didn’t quite seem good enough. Rather than remarking on man’s cruelty to man as a general phenomenon, it’s more alarming to devise this specific pseudofactual narrative. In other news, at summer camp one time, some boys decided it would be funny to zip this one kid up in his duffle bag and then pretend we were going to toss the bag into the lake. I went along with the “prank.” Another time I participated in a prank that really was a prank, and in retaliation, some of the victims decided that instead of counterpranking they would knock this one kid down and sort of roll him down a steep hill.
And so it goes—at an expensive summer camp, “boys will be boys.” On the streets of Washington, boys will be part of a trend piece.
At any rate, violent crime is a terrible thing. I moved to town in 2003, and there were 248 murders that year. Last year, there were just 88 despite population growth. A safer city is a much more pleasant place to live. Beyond the lives saved, it has broad benefits for peace of mind and people’s economic and social development. It’s very unfortunate that we’ve already had 98 murders this year (12 of them from the Navy Yard shooter), though it’s heartening that we’re still below the 108 murders from 2011 or the 132 the year before that. People shouldn’t minimize these concerns about urban violence, but it accomplishes nothing in terms of tackling them to concoct weird trends and games out of thin air.