January 7th, 2014 at 08:12pm
In recent times there has been quite a bit of attention paid to a seemingly growing trend of people in night-time entertainment districts being attacked with a single punch, often referred to as a “king hit”. (There has also been a push to drop the word “king” and replace it with “coward” but, while I understand why people might think a grand word like “king” is out of place in this context, changing the name seems like political correctness guided by unnecessary social engineering to me).
The single-punch attacks in Australia have been placed in the category of “alcohol-fuelled violence” due to their usual proximity to night-time entertainment venues. Alcohol probably plays a part, but I’m not convinced that curbing the trading hours of pubs and clubs (as has been suggested by many people) will solve the problem as I think it’s a cultural issue more than an alcohol issue.
My reasoning for this is that the single-punch attacks are strikingly similar to a growing trend in the US called “the knockout game”. This “game” effectively involves people wandering up to a random target and attempting to knock them out with a single punch to the head, with the target usually being picked along racial lines. Predominantly it has been black people attacking white people, although not exclusively, and because the mainstream media in the US tends to be more interested in white-on-black violence than black-on-anyone (white, black, Hispanic, etc) violence, it took some time for it to receive widespread coverage (I must congratulate Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren for being one of the leading figures in bringing it to light) and by the time it got that level of coverage we were already seeing the similar non-racially motivated attacks here in Australia.
As odd as it is, these attacks seem to be a cultural fad adopted by people who were probably already willing to be violent in public for no reason…it’s just that the fad made it more acceptable in certain circles.
In Australia, while the attacks have predominantly occurred near alcoholic night-spots, the attacks don’t seem to be related to the usual squabbles and punch-ups which regularly occur between certain late-night drunks as evidenced by the fact that some of these attacks have occurred in the early hours of the evening before the usual round of drunk squabbles. For this reason, it seems unlikely to me that making venues close earlier will solve the one-punch attack problem, even if it might solve some other issues which I’ll address shortly.
For the single-punch attacks, existing laws regarding assault and homicide cover most bases, but there is a push in the US and a similar push here to treat this type of assault more seriously than some other types of assaults. This seems like a reasonable adaption of existing laws to a new problem, and I support this move. Treating this type of assault as grave and malicious, and having minimum prison sentences of five or more years, with the minimum duration being higher if the victim dies, would solve most of the problem in my view, and provide police, prosecutors, and judges with the necessary legislative instruments to deal with such offenders.
As I said though, I think the problem of general drunken alcohol-fuelled violence is mostly-unrelated to the single-punch attacks. I suspect the later opening hours we have for pubs and clubs now compared to some years ago are part of the problem as large groups of drunk people are able to stay in a concentrated area for a longer period of time than in years gone by. Previously, if people wanted to keep drinking until sunrise, they had to disperse to separate areas and the people in those areas generally knew each other, whereas now large groups of strangers are in a concentrated area.
That said, the vast majority of people who are out all night are well-behaved and it seems unfair to punish them or the pubs and clubs which have simply responded to market demand, for the bad deeds of a minority.
To my mind, people who are out that late accept the possibility that they might inadvertently be involved in a squabble and it is their right to take that risk. Things can be done to minimise the risk though.
At the moment pubs and clubs can get in a lot of trouble and potentially lose their liquor licence if trouble breaks out on their premises, and so they tend to send potential trouble-makers out on to the street where the trouble seems to escalate. If pubs and clubs weren’t held as responsible for bad behaviour on their premises, they wouldn’t need to be as quick to kick out potential trouble-makers (which is a confrontational process anyway) and their staff could usually contain and squash trouble before it gets out of hand. The staff in these places are generally quite good peace-brokers.
This would have the effect of not having trouble-makers from multiple areas all being sent out on to the street to confront each other, resulting in a lack of escalation of problems, and police generally only having to deal with the worst offenders. This would make things safer and free up police and the courts to take the necessary time to come down hard on the real trouble-makers.
Reduced opening hours may force a reduction in street violence, but it’s at a cost to the liberty of the well-behaved and the freedom of the marketplace, and I think it is a heavy-handed approach which is better-used as a last resort after trying less heavy-handed approaches first.