It’s been almost three years – January 2011 - since a roving group of losers randomly followed and then jumped two young men in Shockoe Bottom, beating and kicking the youths with great relish as one of the attackers videotaped the “fun” with his cell phone for posting on Youtube.
There are good reasons to suspect the current “knockout game” that has been big in the national news is a typical media hypefest, with a few recent events being fearfully spun into a brand new national trend with a social media twist.
Thugs and punks beating innocent folks for sport is far from new. Social media has just made it seem like it.
Back in the late 80s and 90s, when Richmond’s murder rate was four times what is now, you would’ve been lucky to walk away with ringing ears and some loose teeth.
Some of the city’s most violent criminals were teens. It was a well-known fact that the most dangerous inmates in the scary City Jail were the ones in red uniforms – juvenile violent offenders.
Current Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody was a homicide detective and street intelligence expert back then. Both of us saw and felt the menace of these human bottle rockets with fuses so short, they could and did go off without a moment’s notice.
They had grown up without fathers, without direction, in neighborhoods plagued by our oldest and most reliable demons: concentrated poverty, illegitimacy, illiteracy, teen pregnancy and substance abuse.
They grew up in pain and dished it out, Woody recalled. They had no respect and concern for their own lives, or anyone else’s. We saw old men at bus stops killed for bus fare. Grandmothers murdered by their grandsons.
Notorious serial killer Linwood Briley started out as a boy with a pattern of casual, cold-blooded violence, shooting birds and a neighbor lady at her sink.
Rakie Cloyd, Richmond’s infamous “teen-aged hit man” also started young, killing as many as seven before he himself was gunned down at 17 in the summer of 1988.
Yakubu Ross was 13 when he killed his drug-using youth counselor.
Kevin Johnson of Mosby Court, also 13, gunned down two neighborhood friends 20 years ago.
There were many others.
These were some seriously hardened people by a very early age, with the maturity of children. Two accelerators, no brakes.
Any stray comment or act could be seen as an insult. And “disrespecting” – dissing – was a capital crime. Brutal fights, stabbings and shootings over the slightest perceived insult led to the closing of virtually every city venue that catered to teens or young adults. Murders over what someone supposedly said about a girl would lead to payback killings, like dominoes.
It was cool to be hard and cold. I remember interviewing one of these young teen killers in prison. What struck me wasn’t so much how carelessly he had tossed away his life and the life of the young man he killed, but that he thought when he pulled the trigger at point blank range, his victim was going to somehow get back up and shake it off. It just wasn’t real to him.
There’s no question Richmond is a far better, far less dangerous place now. There are nowhere near as many cold-blooded kids out there as there used to be. The city has 40 or less homicides a year, as opposed to 160 in 1993 and mostly over 100 for the decade surrounding that climax.
The city’s rebirth and parallel retreat from mindless violence has been a glorious thing to see.
But Richmond police say there is now a roving group of teens – 14 to 18 years old - in the Randolph area of the city who are beating the daylights out of mostly young passersby, and then robbing them.
This is more than your average mugging, explained RPD Detective William Cutshall. This is particularly vicious.
RPD wants help catching these kids before it gets out of hand. They’ve arrested one and have some strong ideas about some of the others.
This is similar to the juvenile-driven beatdown robberies that were going on in the Jackson Ward neighborhood in months past. Bad, but an improvement over the terminal bloodshed of a generation ago.
Please, don’t confuse all this with the hype of the knockout game – like it’s some bloody prank.
And please, remember how far removed this is from the feast of funerals we saw 20-25 years ago.
Just keep your eyes open and cell phone ready. Keep in mind that recent history, and know that there have been more than a few kids who have grown up in the same hellish conditions that yielded the last generation of cold-hearted teens.