Eric Holder‘s Justice Department has charged a white suburban Houston man with a federal hate crime for sucker-punching a 79-year-old black man in a “knockout game,” a violent trend that has been sweeping the nation.
“The plan is to see if I were to hit a black person, would this be nationally televised?” Conrad Barrett, 27, allegedly said in a cellphone call that was recorded, the Houston Chronicle reported Thursday, citing court documents.
The sick game is played when one or more youths decide to knock down a stranger, preferably with one punch, as they pass by. The event often is recorded so the proof can be posted on the Internet.
It’s the first time the Obama administration has taken action on the distressing trend, The Washington Times reported, although unlike most reported “knockout” cases, in this instance the accused is white and the victim black.
According to the complaint in the Texas case, similar incidents occurred as early as 1992, and the Los Angeles Times reported attacks have been reported in St. Louis, New Jersey, New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, among other areas.
An assault attributed to the knockout game reportedly killed a Vietnamese immigrant in 2011 in St. Louis. At least one legislator in Illinois has called for tougher penalties, the Times said.
Many of the victims in news accounts have been white and their assailants black, but hate-crimes charges have been rare, The Washington Times reported.
In New York, knockout game attacks have been on the rise since September, according to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. At least one was caught by surveillance cameras in which a 19-year-old Jewish youth carrying a camera was knocked to the ground, a CBS affiliate reported.
Rabbi Yaacov Behrman told the CBS he believes the assaults are part of a disturbing game by some African-American teens.
“They’re playing a game: ‘knockout.’ ‘Knock out the Jew,’ maybe. And they’re going around the neighborhood punching Jews,” Behrman said.
Activist the Rev. Al Sharpton wrote last month of an incident in which a 78-year-old Jewish woman was walking down the street in Brooklyn and was punched in the face.
“These kids are targeting innocent people, and in many cases specifically targeting Jewish folks,” Sharpton wrote. “We would not be silent if it were the other way around, and we will not be silent now. This behavior is racist, period. And we will not tolerate it.”
New York police charged suspect Marajh Amrit with a hate crime in the alleged attack of a white Jewish man as part of a “knockout” game.
According to Texas authorities, Barrett allegedly hit his elderly victim so hard,he immediately tumbled to the ground. Barrett then laughed and said “knockout,” as he ran to his vehicle and fled, according to the allegations.
The elderly black man had two jaw fractures and was hospitalized for several days.
“It is unimaginable in this day and age that one could be drawn to violently attack another based on the color of their skin,” FBI Special Agent Stephen Morris said in a statement.
The attack occurred Nov. 24; the criminal complaint was filed under seal Tuesday and unsealed Thursday, when Barrett was arrested, television station KHOU reported.
Barrett made several videos, one in which he identifies himself and another in which he makes a racial slur and says blacks “haven’t fully experienced the blessing of evolution,” The Washington Times reported.
Barrett allegedly had been working up to playing the knockout game for approximately a week.
If convicted, he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
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By Cathy Burke