PEOPLE HAVE been getting punched in the face for no reason since the dawn of man.
This year in Philadelphia alone, there have been approximately 5,000 aggravated assaults that didn't involve a gun, according to police data, and some of them surely involved a fist or two coming out of nowhere. But lately, some have questioned whether some seemingly random acts of violence are something a little more: an assault in which a thug tries to knock someone out with one punch.
The "knockout game" has caused police departments across the country to both scratch and shake their heads, wondering whether the phenomenon is real, widespread, or an Internet myth being hyped through social and mainstream media.
For one Fox Chase man who police say was a victim of the "knockout game," the incident simply made his head hurt.
"It was just a sort of shock. I didn't really know what happened," Mark Cumberland said yesterday.
Cumberland, police said, is the only official victim of the "knockout game" among recent assaults, although they didn't say why and noted that the attack is just a new name for age-old phenomenon: random violence.
"We take this very seriously and it's senseless, and the behavior needs to stop immediately before someone is seriously hurt or killed as a result of this stupid game," Lt. John Sanford said yesterday.
It was just getting dark Nov. 11 when Cumberland, 29, took a walk to get milk for his daughter and an order of french fries at Verree Express Pizza on Verree Road near Rhawn Street in Fox Chase. Outside the store, a young man approached Cumberland and asked for a cigarette, and Cumberland, though unemployed, was ready to show some brotherly love to a smoker in need.
"I was reaching in my back pocket to get the cigarette, and before I knew it, he just started hitting me," Cumberland said.
Cumberland was hit several times by approximately three or four individuals after that initial punch and was eventually able to scramble inside the shop and hold the door closed. The attackers didn't take his wallet or cellphone, and he was later treated for cuts, bruises, two black eyes, and what he described as damaged cartilage in his thyroid.
"My daughter was pretty scared when she saw me. I told her, 'Don't worry, the cops are going to catch them,' " Cumberland said.
On Thursday, police did arrest a 15-year-old male in connection with the attack on Cumberland and are still seeking other assailants.
No other assaults in the city, including a cyclist knocked off his bike and punched by a group of teens in South Philly on Friday, have been labeled as part of "the knockout game." Sanford said the talk of the game, real or imagined, could prompt copycats, and officers have been advised to be aware of it.
Cumberland said he just figured the teens who attacked him were either "bored or high," and if they were playing a game with his life, like police said, no one won.
"I guess people just need to keep their eyes open more out here," he said. "Smiling faces can be deceiving."