Generally I'm not one to read comments to news stories. I get my news and move on. But when I read about violent crime or tragic incidents, I sometimes go to the comments section to get more details from the locals.
Such was the case with a recent article that described 15 Youths Attacking A Cyclist on the Metropolitan Branch Trail in the D.C. area. The article offered no explanation for the attack and instead focused on the victim's bewilderment at being attacked "for apparently no reason." So I headed to the comments section.
There a self-described reverend posted that these youths were playing the "knockout game." I apparently had been living under a rock and was clueless about this activity. If you are as well, let me fill you in.
According to Wikipedia, "Knockout, also known as the knockout game and knockout king, is a violent activity played by teenagers in which they attack an innocent pedestrian in an attempt to knock him or her unconscious with one punch. The game can result in serious injuries or death for its victims and corresponding criminal charges for those playing it."
Some claim this "game" has been around for at least a decade, though examples are cited that go back as far as 1992. It's practiced widely and has been described as "nearly contagious" in the St. Louis area.
After reading several accounts of these attacks, I can tell you that the "game" is sometimes refined for victims along bike trails. Since one punch can lead to a swing and a miss with a passing cyclist, they've found that chucking them to the ground first is more effective. That way attackers can properly pummel their victims into coma or death more easily. For you see, that's why it's called the knockout game. If they don't (or can't) knock you out, they keep beating or kicking you... in the head.
Does any of this sound familiar to Columbus trail users? It should. Attacks in 2010 and again in 2013 on the Alum Creek Trail appear to mirror this behavior.
At the time, Ohio Bikeways naively reported these incidents as "assaults and robberies," thanks in no small part to stifled journalism by the Columbus Dispatch. What the Dispatch failed to report was the severity of these beatings and their possible knowledge of this "game."
A clue that there was something more sinister at play did come out in March, however, when the Dispatch reported that local law enforcement officers were suddenly speaking about park rangers carrying weapons.
So don't expect much help from media reports regarding the true nature of this activity. Few news outlets speak plainly about these attacks.
Sadly, yes. Many of the things we love about trails also appeal to these attackers. Trails can provide secluded spots near urban areas, where perpetrators are not likely to be caught on camera or seen carrying out their brutal beatings. Nearby wooded areas can provide a concealed escape route as well. And of course, trail users often pass by only 1 or 2 at a time. So they can lie in wait for whichever victim type they choose. The fact is that victims literally come to the waiting perpetrators!
And consider infrequent (or nonexistent) patrols by unarmed park rangers. For the perps, that's preferable to encountering an armed police officer with a patrol car on the street.
Thankfully there are a brave few who investigate how these disturbing trends originate. One such journalist is Colin Flaherty. Read his post, "Bike Trail Builds Reputation For Mob Attacks" and his book, "White Girl Bleed A Lot" to learn more.
And of course, you can also Google "knockout game" to learn much more.
Staying home or crossing your fingers when you use your local trail is not the answer. In upcoming posts I'll cover what you can do to stay safe and combat these crimes in your area.
See Part 2 below.
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As promised, we'll explore some of the dynamics of this violent crime and what you can do in the short term to protect yourself.
Most trail users know to take measures to protect themselves against possible muggings and other crimes along trails. Many of those typical safety practices are outlined on our Safety page.
To my knowledge, however, no one has published any tips on what to do when confronted with a gang or mob that intends to do you harm. This is a different dynamic where much of the standard safety advice may not apply.
While jogging with a buddy will decrease the odds of a single attacker targeting you, you're not guaranteed to get a pass from a group or large gang of perpetrators. It becomes a numbers game that's played at their discretion.
Pepper spray, when used properly can be effective in one-on-one confrontations. But again, the numbers are stacked against trail users when confronted with a gang. While you're engaged with an initial attacker, what will the rest of the mob do -- flee or surround you?
A trail rider, commenting on one of the Metropolitan Branch Trail attacks, said he carries pepper spray and relies on his awareness and instincts as to what he sees ahead on the trail. He went on to say that he saw a large group of youths on the D.C. area trail the day of the attack and decided to detour around them using adjoining roads, rather than ride through and take his chances.
I agree that being aware of your surroundings is critical. Trust your instincts as well when it comes to potential danger. Be particularly vigilant if attacks have been reported on the trail you're riding.
Though the weapon advice is bound to be a controversial one, I see no crime in defending yourself or your loved ones. This should of course be done legally. You should have a proper permit and check to see if you can legally carry the weapon (and in what manner) on the trail you wish to use.
I won't attempt to explore what one armed person can/should do when attacked by a gang. Beware of the obvious, however, which is if you are taken by surprise (hit from behind) that your weapon may be used against you. But then again, without a weapon you may still have your head kicked in, as that's how the Knockout "Game" is often played.
In the next post, we'll look at what communities must do to put a stop to these gang attacks.
Continue with Part 3 below.
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In this post we'll explore what communities should do when gangs use trails to target victims.
Whether due to excessive political-correctness or ignorance: Most news outlets give misleading reports of these gang attacks.
Whether this is done deliberately or not, the results are the same. Locals are lead to believe that these crimes are unfortunate isolated acts of violence. Nothing more.
Telltale signs of shoddy reporting in these cases include:
Under-reporting of this heinous crime is a tremendous community disservice. It fails to properly inform local residents about what's happening. This in turn prevents locals from taking steps to protect themselves or to help to apprehend the perpetrators and put a stop to this violent crime. It's a lose / lose scenario for the public and law enforcement, and a big win for the perpetrators.
And this may be why the "knockout game" has not only survived, but spread across the country. Thanks to the media, there is little public awareness of this criminal activity or its true nature.
Just as building a trail is a complex effort that requires cooperation between local entities as well as public support, taking back a trail where assailants are targeting trail users may also require a community effort.
Trail user meetings should be combined with local park entities and law enforcement to determine a community-wide plan of action along the trail (& other areas that may also be affected).
The action plan should be straightforward:
For those of you who have these life-threatening crimes in your area, do not sit idly by. Educate local residents concerning the true nature of this gang-related violence and organize a community response. Take back your trails and parks!
Have you been a victim or witnessed this crime in Ohio? Report it to local law enforcement, then contact us so we can spread the word to others.
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