For his part, Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, is not convinced that knockout game attacks are growing. He argues in an upcoming journal article that racially fueled knockout attacks are in the news is because they’ve actually become rarer than in the past, so they are more notable. The 1990s, he says, had far more reports of so-called “thrill hate crimes” – think white teenagers beating up homeless men.

“This is a thrill hate crime because typically young people who go out looking for someone to bash or assault, the act doesn’t necessarily require some triggering episode in wider society,” says Mr. Levin in a phone interview with the Monitor. “These knockout attacks are usually interracial, but not every interracial crime is a hate crime.”