Both he and his father were victims of the random violent attacks, now a South Philadelphia man is demanding city officials tackle the problem head on.
The City of Philadelphia has a problem with regards to the “knockout game.” The problem is in fact, the City of Philadelphia. As of late, we have been bombarded with alleged instances of this nefarious game from media outlets across the country, while our fair city mulls over the idea that this “game” has possibly spread to our own streets.
Our mayor and police commissioner have addressed the “knockout game,” and even SEPTA has weighed in on the issue, defending the safety of our streets and our transportation system, respectively. As they rightfully should, I might add. However, this recognition seems half-baked to me and others and the reasons are plentiful.
I applaud Mayor Michael Nutter for addressing the problem in such terms that youth participating will be prosecuted to the “fullest extent of the law.” It is also right that he urges schools and parents do what they can on the home front to educate our city’s youth of what it is they’re actually doing when they engage in such a dangerous “game,” as well as the potentially life-changing consequences. Commissioner Charles Ramsey has offered similar lip service on behalf of law enforcement and SEPTA officials say they’re investigating possible instances of the “game” on both the blue and orange lines. However, there is a very simple nuance missing from these statements, and that is an admission of a problem.
I’ve had my own experiences with the “knockout game.” Once, near the edge of Temple’s main campus, I was struck in the back of the neck by an assailant who ran towards me from behind and continued running after the impact. While stunned, I could hear him laughing as he sprinted toward the end of the block, where a group of teens (obviously friends of the perpetrator) pointed and laughed as well.
On another occasion, I was walking home on East McKean Street in South Philly. As I walked past three teens walking in the other direction, I felt a jarring blow to the left side of my jaw. My headphones (the big can-type) spun off my head. I had no idea what had happened, but I figured it out quickly when I heard that familiar laughter behind me.
I wasn’t knocked out on either occasion, but my father was not so lucky. While sitting on the North end of the Broad Street line, he suddenly found himself being carried off his subway car with blood pouring from his face. He was told he had been hit with a blunt object by teens that had run off. A successful knockout would be an understatement, as the single-blow injury required facial reconstructive surgery for a shattered suborbital. Although he doesn’t look as “ghoulish” (his words) as he thinks he does now, his face has undeniably never looked the same.
After his recovery, he was randomly assaulted a second time on the same bit of subway track. The second time the knockout was unsuccessful. Enraged, he chased the assailants down the train. Of course, this man in his fifties was no match for the speed of teenage boys. Once they got away, he admonished his fellow passengers for standing by and not helping after they had all seen what had happened. No one could block the door to the next car? No one could stick their foot out and trip these sprinting jerks? I would have been incensed as well.
This brings me to the point of lack of admission to a systemic problem in our city. Despite varying levels of severity, all four of the occasions I’ve mentioned have most things in common: assault, on a whim, of a person who was clearly travelling alone. No thefts occurred in any case, which leads us to believe that these attacks were simply for the enjoyment of the attackers. And here’s the rub, all of these attacks occurred about TEN YEARS AGO.
The attack that left my father hospitalized was part of a rash that directly led to SEPTA installing cameras in their trains and at their stations, yet in response to a recent attack spokeswoman Jerri Williams claims: “We have this one incident on video, but is this an issue? It is a problem? No!” …Whew! I was worried for a minute.
So, how is it that our city officials are still contemplating whether this “game” has spread to Philadelphia? Spread to? We could have started it, for all we know, and not recently. I know others who had similar experiences long before mine or my Dad’s. Random violence for entertainment purposes is nothing new in our city, and these games have gone by many names in the past. Inconveniently for our city officials, they now have the advent of social media and easily accessible methods of documentation to contend with.
These crimes are notoriously underreported, for good reason. I’m guilty of not reporting the McKean St. attack in South Philly. Sure, I could have filed a police report describing “three black teenage males, medium height, medium build, wearing black puffy coats,” but I didn’t. Would you? I was disoriented by an attack, I didn’t remember if one guy had a scar under his left eye or any sort of defining features of the youths laughing as they walked away. If an arrest or detainment had occurred, would they be the right suspects? Would I be able to confidently identify a suspect after having no interaction with him other than walking past? Doubtfully, I’m sure, a pointless endeavor.
Years ago, law enforcement and city officials could easily shirk the issue of random assault. No report means no data, and no data means no problem. Hands and consciences clean for all involved. Now, things are different. These attacks are being captured and shared with the world via cheap technology and social media, putting this problem on the map. Not only that, but despite what this activity has been called over the years, it is now a legitimate game.
Batting cages are lots of fun, but you’re not playing a game. What makes swinging the bat a game? A team, a goal, and perhaps most importantly, spectators! What was once a bit of fun has been given a ragtag league by the accessibility of technology, and those responsible for the safety of our streets can no longer pretend.
Unfortunately, they find ways to pretend nonetheless. They have no issue with threatening perpetrators, but refuse to acknowledge a long-standing problem. Perhaps they don’t have the guts to answer the hard questions, which no doubt would follow quickly. Nobody at City Hall wants to involve themselves with subjects such as socioeconomic status, location, the state of youth in contemporary American society, or god-forbid, race. All may or may not play a role in random violence. And the last thing they would want to do is apply these issues to their city on their watch. I have no opinions about such things, because I, like everyone else, have no data. All we know is that people of all types have been both victims and aggressors. I can speak to my own experience and nothing more. I’m not interested in class or race or any other hot-button issue that prevents problems from being solved. If these issues are relevant, so be it, if not, so be it as well.
I don’t care which way it goes, I’m simply a concerned citizen who wants results from those whom are sworn to strive for results. When Nutter and Ramsey play pretend like they have been – simply to avoid hard issues – they insult the intelligence of their constituents and those they’ve sworn to protect, respectfully. We didn’t vote for them or appoint them to avoid problems; we did so because they promised results. We don’t vote for cowards, we vote for people whom we think can take a tough issue to the chin, just like we can take a fist to ours.
Francis Sapienza is a sometimes touring, sometimes studio-based music technology professional, based in South Philadelphia. He has a passion for community values both at home and on the road.
Photo: J Billings
Source: TBO Inc®
©2013 All Rights Reserved.