US police are investigating whether a wave of random street assaults are part of a violent “knockout” game where young men try to knock innocent bystanders unconscious with a single punch.
Reports of unprovoked assaults on unsuspecting victims have been reported in New York, Washington and Jersey City in recent months as police try to understand the motives for the attacks.
At least seven attacks have occurred in recent weeks in New York, including an assault on a 78-year-old woman, with the city’s hate crimes police unit investigating attacks on Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn.
The Washington Post reported this week that a woman was punched in the face while cycling in Washington and another was hit in the back of the head as she walked to a bus stop.
'Prism of race'
Many people are seeing the assaults through the "prism of race", said criminologist Jeffrey Butts, director of the research and evaluation centre at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, but it is more likely to be as a result of "bored, disconnected young people" looking for excitement.
"We're not really sure whether this is a real and growing phenomenon, or just an incredibly rare event that is just now getting a lot of attention," Mr Butts told The Irish Times.
"The strangest thing about it, if the stories are to be believed, is that this is a very serious, violent offence that is committed for no reason other than the thrill of doing it – sort of like A Clockwork Orange."
The posting of assault footage on social media websites as well as the televised reporting of the assaults may be increasing the number of attacks.
New York state assemblyman Jim Tedisco has proposed a Bill that would increase the prison sentences against the perpetrators.