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Teens Knock Out Strangers: A New Trend?


I'm Celeste Headlee and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. And it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys are going to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week, writer Jimi Izrael. He joins us from Cleveland. Fernando Vila is director of program - Vila is director of programming - sorry, Fernando - for Fusion.


HEADLEE: That's an ABC-Univision venture. He is in Miami. Lenny McAllister is host of "The McAllister Minute" on the American Urban - Amurrican (ph) Urban Radio Network. He's also a Republican strategist. He joins us from Pittsburgh. And in Chicago, we have Arsalan Iftikhar. He's the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com. Now that I've completely mangled all of your names and titles, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, Celeste. Thank you so much. And, fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey...

VILA: How's it going, Jimi?

IFTIKHAR: ...What's crackin'?

LENNY MCALLISTER: Doing well. What's going on, Jimi?

IZRAEL: Hey, man, I'll tell you what's cracking - jaws evidently because, hello, people are concerned about something called the "knockout game." Now I guess it's where a group of people, usually teens, surprise attack someone with the goal of knocking them out with just one punch. It sounds like the Democrats in the last election. Celeste?



HEADLEE: And there are reports of this happening, supposedly, spreading in cities like New York, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, St. Louis. Authorities, though, say this game isn't new, it's been around for at least a decade. What's new is the viral videos of these attacks that are causing a lot of alarm. So, Jimi, have you heard about this going on in Cleveland?

IZRAEL: No, I haven't heard anything. You can't pull this in Cleveland because, I mean, this is a CCW state. That means you can conceal and carry a weapon. And I promise you, you know, that this trend wouldn't last very long in this city. This really is the home of the Po' boy. Also, the national bird here is the nine-millimeter bullet.


IZRAEL: So I very seriously doubt that anything like that could happen here in the city, but I could be wrong. Having said that, Fernando Vila, you know, what do you think of all this?

VILA: You know, I just think it's - just random acts of violence are obviously morally reprehensible. I just think that, you know, if we pay so much attention to it, are we fueling the fire, so to speak? I mean, is this actually sort of a moral rot, you know, as part of youth culture that's sort of particularly - like, that's sort of worse than it ever was? I'm not sure. You know, and I just think that if we pay more and more attention to it and blow it up as this big thing that's sort of out to scare you, and, you know, you should be, you know, worried about it, then I wonder if we're just fueling the fire.

IZRAEL: You know, it's interesting. Some New York state politicians really, really want stiff consequences for this. Here's Assemblyman Dov Hikind.


DOV HIKIND: ...That people think it's a fun thing to attack somebody. You are going to be arrested, and you are going to go to jail for a very long time. That has to be the message.

IZRAEL: All right. Down with that. Arsalan, A-train, another legislator there wants this to be treated as a gang assault. What do you think about that?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, there are some states that have statutes on the books that, you know, they can charge something called mob violence. You know, when something is seen to be a group act. And, you know, I do have to echo my man Fernando here in terms of, you know, our media outlets showing these surreptitious videos of these, quote-unquote, knockout games. I think it does fuel the fire. You know, I think also an unintended consequence of this might be racial profiling, in the sense that, you know, if you're walking down the street and you see a group of teenagers, you know, you might now walk across the street, you know...

VILA: Right.

IFTIKHAR: ...To not be in their path. And I think that that's very detrimental also in terms of, you know, these isolated incidents somehow being sort of seen in a greater macro view.

IZRAEL: Lenny, troubled teens or just some thuggish, ruggish stuff?

MCALLISTER: I mean, it's obviously troubled teens, but I have to echo the other two gentlemen's statements. I caution where we're living in a society and at a time where it's profitable, even from a media standpoint, to criminalize black youths. So, I mean, you have stop-and-frisk. You have what's happened with Trayvon Martin, and George Zimmerman going back to jail, again. You have these incidences continuously of showing the criminalized black youth in an era of the new Jim Crow. So now it just makes sense from a media standpoint for ratings to bring out a new game that they have often admitted has been around for years now in many of these urban environments.

But we don't hear the same type of attention paid to policies, programs and efforts by people that are going to help change the urban environment. Instead, it's much more profitable to just report these types of things, and then say, look at how they are, there's no hope for them. And that's when you start getting into racial profiling. They increase divide and disparities. And that's not going to help us get to where we need to as a country.

IZRAEL: You know, when I first heard about this some time ago, I didn't hear about it in urban atmospheres. I heard about young, white suburban kids harassing homeless people and knocking them out. Yeah, that...

VILA: I remember when thrill kills was a thing. Remember when they would, like, you know, go in a car in rural areas and just shoot someone randomly, like that was a thing.

IZRAEL: No, bro. Where did you live?


VILA: No, but this was like the same media thing where there was, like...


VILA: ..Oh, it's the new thing, but then everyone forgot about it.


MCALLISTER: But what's the image now? The image now is you look at the stories that have been hitting nationally, you're talking about Newark, New Jersey, you're talking about New York City.

VILA: Right.

MCALLISTER: Again, see how this has shifted to the narrative that makes sense that we've been seeing over the last several years of...


MCALLISTER: ...Criminalizing black youths. And that's what's dangerous about this.

HEADLEE: Well, let's...

VILA: I see.

HEADLEE: ...Let's move on because this is an important anniversary today. I want to make sure that we get onto the subject of this 50th anniversary.



IZRAEL: Yeah, it's President Kennedy's assassination.


UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time. Two o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.

IZRAEL: Wow. Now, obviously, I don't remember that. I was still probably just a really good idea between my parents. But with all due respect, you know, for all those people that do, I kind of feel like we've kind of created this cult of Kennedy, which in my mind - I don't know. Look, it was a tragedy for sure. But I wonder if it's - it's almost as if we haven't had any good ideas since Jack Kennedy got killed, you know, and that bothers me. You know, I don't like it when Martin is propped up. I don't like it when Malcolm is propped up. I think all these people would rather that we take their good ideas and build upon them, as opposed to put their faces on T-shirts and mugs and candy bars and celebrate them in that way. To me, that's not useful. To me, it's not useful. Lenny McAllister, am I wrong here?

MCALLISTER: I can understand where you're coming from with that, Jimi. But I think you're not quite seeing what Kennedy meant for people and what the symbolism of the Kennedy assassination really was. You had this - I mean, basically, you had the 1960s version of hope and change, and it was felled by a bullet in Dallas. And unfortunately, this was probably the first time in the 20th century where the whole country stopped trusting their government.

And ever since then, if you look at the polls in regards to how people trust politicians, conspiracies, etc., you would see those numbers declining. There was a lot of good will and political capital that was built into the Kennedy, you know, tenure, the whole Camelot thing, despite the rumors about Marilyn Monroe and the Cuban Missile Crisis, everything else. There was very much a tone of good versus evil. And on that day, it seemed as though to many Americans that evil won. And since then, we've become more apathetic towards government. And we are less trusting of government. And that's pretty much a big symbol of what the Kennedy assassination really meant that we oftentimes overlook.

IZRAEL: Arsalan.

IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir. I think, you know, what's important to keep in mind, you know, for me is the fact that, you know, this assassination was, you know, at the time, seen as the seminal moment in American history for the last half-century. You know, growing up, I remember people always asking the question to those people who were alive, you know, where were you when Kennedy was assassinated? And, you know - and this was not only an American phenomenon. I remember talking to my dad a couple of days ago, who was a 17-year-old medical student in Pakistan, and he remembers exactly where he was when they heard halfway around the world, you know, when Kennedy was assassinated.

And I think that, you know, for our generation, the seminal moment will probably be September 11, when we will ask, you know, where were you, you know when 9/11 happened? And I remember 20 years ago when I was 16 years old, on the 30th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, you know, we had heard that, you know, in the 50 year anniversary, we were going to see the Warren Commission report fully come out and really find out who killed Kennedy. And I remember as a 16-year-old in 1993 thinking, OK, well, in the year 2013, we'll finally, finally know who killed Kennedy.

HEADLEE: That's a lot of dates there, Arsalan. If you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, Republican strategist Lenny McAllister, commentator Arsalan Iftikhar and journalist Fernando Vila. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, Republican Congressman Trey Radel of Florida had a bad week. Now he pled guilty to buying blow from an undercover federal agent. Why doesn't he have his own connect? Anyway...


IZRAEL: ...Now for those of you unfamiliar - I think that's a potent question.

IFTIKHAR: That's a valid question.


IZRAEL: Yeah, I mean, why you on the street buying? But anyway, for those of you unfamiliar with the Florida congressman, he's a self-proclaimed hip-hop conservative. Here's a clip of him from this past summer.


REPRESENTATIVE TREY RADEL: Tupac came out with a message. I mean, sometimes he could be known as a crazy party animal, the wild guy. But if you listen to his lyrics, there are some really serious, heavy stuff going on. To me, Tupac is what I'm going to be listened to in my car. Biggie is at the party.

IZRAEL: Of course he is. Thank you, Congressman Radel, or Radel - may need to rethink those tea parties from here on out. Fernando Vila, this guy's from your state, so, you know...

VILA: Yeah.

IZRAEL: ...I mean, yeah. Check in here, bro.

VILA: I mean, I get a little uncomfortable when this kind of thing happens, you know. I - there is a lot of public pressure on public officials to come out, you know, and say that they have a, you know, an addiction problem whenever they're caught with drugs. And I just kind of - you know, I struggle with that because this sort of - sort of separating drugs and alcohol, to me, is a little problematic. It's a little bit of a double standard. To me, drugs and alcohol are all drugs. And if he does have a substance abuse problem, I hope he gets help and gets better. But if he was just using drugs and alcohol recreationally and it wasn't really affecting his, you know, his legislative abilities, then I don't - you know, the sort of moral outrage I kind of like to hold back on.


MCALLISTER: Chop, chop. Kick, kick. Please, really?

IZRAEL: Lenny.



MCALLISTER: ...This is a guy that voted to make sure that those that needed food stamps...


MCALLISTER: ...Got drug tested.



VILA: Well, that's...

MCALLISTER: ...The height of hypocrisy here is unreal. And honestly, to me as a Republican, I get frustrated by this because it makes my brand look bad because here's this hip-hop conservative. Wee-ooh, I listen to Tupac. And he's sitting here, and he votes against the people that need the help the most in some kind of Tea Party-fueled rhetoric and then going around and living the exact opposite of what he says in front of the camera. That's what makes it...

VILA: No, Lenny...

MCALLISTER: ...Hard in politics.

VILA: And, Lenny, I agree with you.


HEADLEE: Lenny's fired up.

IZRAEL: Hip-hopcrisy in the Republican party. Details at 11.

VILA: He deserves condemnation for voting for a bad policy.

HEADLEE: Well, listen...

VILA: Right?

IFTIKHAR: Well, no - and...

IZRAEL: OK. Well, hold on. Hold on.


HEADLEE: All right, guys.

IZRAEL: Fellas, fellas.

HEADLEE: All right, guys.

IZRAEL: We got a move on.

HEADLEE: Yeah, guys.

IZRAEL: We go to move on.

HEADLEE: Hey, whoa.

IZRAEL: We got to move on. You guys....


IZRAEL: ...Can fight about in the parking lot, but we've got to get it cracking. Now, you know, moving on. We - you know, the guy that just cannot stay gone. That's George Zimmerman. Check this out.


UNIDENTIFIED OPERATOR: What's going on there?

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: My girlfriend, for lack of a better word, going crazy on me.

OPERATOR: Your girlfriend?


OPERATOR: OK, where is she now?

ZIMMERMAN: Outside with the police.

OPERATOR: OK, the police is already there and - so why are you calling? What happened?

ZIMMERMAN: I just want everyone to know the truth.

IZRAEL: Of course you do. Sounds as if he is calling 911 from 130 leagues beneath the sea, but that was in Florida. He was later arrested over that domestic dispute. And as a condition of his bail, he was ordered not to possess weapons. Clutch the pearls while he awaits trial on charges that he pointed a shotgun at his girlfriend. This guy. This guy. Wow. A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.

IZRAEL: Arsalan Iftikhar. All right, you know, is this your re-donk-ulous joint of the week, my dude?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, as I publicly stated to my 40,000 Facebook and Twitter followers, I said, a Florida judge told George Zimmerman today that he could not have guns after choking his white girlfriend. I kind of wish he did that after he killed a black teenager named Trayvon Martin. You know, this was not the first time. You know, there was more domestic violence charges against him, even before Trayvon Martin. You know, it shows that, you know, sadly for our American society, George Zimmerman is the gift that keeps on giving.


IZRAEL: All right. Celeste?

HEADLEE: Well, we have just a few minutes left here. And I want to lighten - let's, like, kind of lighten up the mood here for just a moment and talk about clothes.

MCALLISTER: Are we going to talk about...

HEADLEE: Can we talk about clothes?

MCALLISTER: ...Detroit Lions football?

HEADLEE: We could but...

IZRAEL: No, bro. Are you serious?

HEADLEE: ...Instead - yeah, we're going to talk about clothes. Go Lions. An online mag called Gawker published an article this week that said, jeans and sport coat not OK. And in fact, some people in the fashion industry are saying jeans with a sport coat are the equivalent of a business mullet.


HEADLEE: I've got to get your reactions here. Jimi, is this a signature look for you?

IZRAEL: Yeah, that's all I rock, Celeste. That's what you'll catch me rocking with. I mean, that's what I'm rocking with today, basically. You know, and - you know, and I teach, you know, so - hey, what's up, Case (ph). What's up, Tri-C (ph). So, you know, when you see me in class, I can't be in my Bart Simpson T-shirt. You know, so I rock the shirt, tie with the Levi 550s and sometimes the Polo jacket. That's how I rock. You dig?

HEADLEE: Arsalan. isn't this also your, kind of, signature look?

IFTIKHAR: I'm wearing it right now as we speak.

HEADLEE: Yep, see, there we go.

IFTIKHAR: Not only do I wear a sport coat and jeans, I throw a hoodie on under that sport coat with colorful argyle socks. I don't know who wrote this sartorial piece of junk. To all my ballers out there that rock the sport coat and jeans, in the great words of Kat Williams, you keep pimpin' pimpin'.

HEADLEE: Well, Lenny, let me get your input on here because it wasn't just one person that wrote this sartorial junk. It was a lot of people saying this has risen out of the tech industry and it's just not OK.

MCALLISTER: There are some people that just should not do it. I am one of them. It's just like, you know, short men under 6-feet-tall should not wear pink. I am one of those type of men that you will not see me wearing pink and purples for obvious reasons. So, you know, there's just some people that can do it and some people can't.

HEADLEE: All right.

IZRAEL: Will someone mistaken you for Prince or something, bro? I mean, why can't you wear purple and pink. I mean, just wear it, man. Be your own man.

HEADLEE: Well, let's get Fernando. Fernando, you want to weigh in here?

VILA: Yeah. To me it's a very simple rule. You know, it's cool as long as you don't wear jean shorts with it.


VILA: And it's cool as long as you tuck in.

HEADLEE: And no loafers without socks. Please, gentlemen.

VILA: That's true.

HEADLEE: That's Fernando Vila, director of programming for Fusion, an ABC-Univision venture. He joined us from their studios there in Miami. Before that, Lenny McAllister, Republican strategist, host of the "The McAllister Minute" on the American Urban Radio Network. He joined us from NPR member station WQED in Pittsburgh. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and senior editor of The Islamic Monthly. And he joined us from NPR member station WBEZ in Chicago. And Jimi Izrael, writer and adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. He joined us from NPR member station WCPN in Cleveland. Thanks, guys.


VILA: Thank you.

MCALLISTER: Thank you.


HEADLEE: Remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, you can get the podcast. It's in the iTunes store, or you can just find it at NPR.org. That is our program for today. I'm Celeste Headlee and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Have a great weekend. Tune in for more talk on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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