I’ve been skeptical about the “knockout game” story, perhaps because I’ve seen too many “rainbow bracelet” and other such reality-disconnected hysterias over the years. Moral panics have been with us for as long as … humans have organized themselves into civilizations, probably.  I can still recall the urban legend from well before my blogging days that driving with headlights on during the day in Los Angeles would have gang members targeting people for random attacks. I never did that anyway, as I’d forget to turn them off and end up needing a jump start.

That doesn’t make the attacks any less real, though. CNN asks today whether these are just random attacks getting outsized media attention or a real trend — or whether the outsized media attention is creating the trend, as NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly warns:

The attacks themselves are real enough, and so are the deaths and injuries.  Four people have been killed in similar assaults, which have nothing in common except the modus operandi.  Even Al Sharpton was moved this weekend to condemn the “knockout game,” telling a Harlem audience, “We would not be silent if it was the other way around”:

“This kind of behavior is deplorable and must be condemned by all us,” he said at his weekly National Action Network meeting in Harlem. “We would not be silent if it was the other way around. We cannot be silent or in any way reluctant to confront it when it is coming from our own community.”

On Monday, Sharpton and other leaders plan to discuss a “next move.”

“Kids are randomly knocking out people [from] another race — some specifically going at Jewish people,” he said. “This kind of insane thuggery — there is nothing cute about that. There is no game play about knocking somebody out, and it is not a game. It is an assault and is bias, and it is wrong.”

Will this create enough of a pushback to shame the lawless into better behavior? Or will it turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy as the attacks gain more and more media attention?  It’s a tough call, but if Sharpton finds it necessary to speak out, I’d say there’s more to it than just media boredom.