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{Published in the Buffalo News, November 29, 2013}

The game of “Knockout”, where unruly youths dare each other to randomly punch someone in public hard enough to put them unconscious, is taking the course of all our fears. First it starts obscure, perhaps even contained in the dark corners of society. Then media attention as a “new trend” both raises fears and advertises the game to new wannabe players in a self-fulfilling spiral.

But the real crime is the usual need for a political, legislative response. A New York State Assemblyman is proposing a law giving it a penalty of up to 25 years in prison. You know, because there aren’t already any laws against assault on the books. Then again distractive driving laws aren’t enough to keep redundant, micromanaging cell phone and texting laws at bay. But this is more than reactionary, emotional, “what if it were you” legislation. It is one more way to take away the judiciary’s ability to craft justice to the situation of individual circumstance.

We need to keep a sane perspective. We’re talking about a punch. If it really injures someone – or even kills them – they should be accountable accordingly. We have laws for that. But a typical punch in a bar fight or domestic or myriad other circumstances doesn’t usually warrant a quarter-century of detainment. And we already incarcerate more people for petty crimes than any nation on earth. There is a cost to that, monetarily and socially.

The perpetrators seem to be mostly young bulls among today’s fatherless youth that find more identity from a gang than a neighborhood, church, or society. The real question we must ask ourselves is if separating them further from humanity for a potential third of their lives will “teach them a lesson” or set them permanently on a lifelong path of anti-social alienation.