Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has a message to those who have or are thinking about participating in a "knockout game" attack.
"First and foremost this is disgusting and inexcusable behavior," Nutter said during a press conference early Monday evening. "It's not a game. You can seriously injure or possibly even kill someone with this kind of activity."
During the press conference, Nutter vowed anyone who engaged in the attacks would be prosecuted to the "fullest extent of the law."
"It's a very serious crime to assault someone," Nutter said. "The Philadelphia Police Department and District Attorney will treat it as such."
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Called the "knockout game," such attacks, typically carried out by teens, consist of someone punching a stranger in the head at random. The goal is to try and knock them out cold. Some of the beatings are recorded and posted online for all to see.
A number of such attacks have taken place across the nation recently -- resulting in injuries for the victims and at least one death.
NBC10 records show at least a half a dozen recent assaults in Philadelphia bear the characteristics of a "knockout game" attack. But, while there is heightened concern that more attacks are taking place locally, not all assaults that have the hallmarks of the 'game' turn out to be true "knockout" attacks.
The random attack of a cyclist by a group of teens in Bella Vista on Friday night was initially investigated as a "knockout game" attack, but detectives later said that was no longer the case.
During Monday's press conference, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said it's difficult to determine the difference between a "knockout" attack and a random assault.
“These kinds of incidents are classified as either simple assault or aggravated assault, perhaps even robbery," Ramsey said. "But there have been a handful that could fall into this category of crime. We’re aggressively pursuing anyone who may be responsible for such an act. It’s occurred in other cities. We suspect it’s occurred here. But to what extent? I really don’t know. I do know it’s not something that’s widespread but we’re trying to prevent it from becoming widespread by taking action at this time.”
Officials say people should pay extra attention to their surroundings, be aware of odd body language by strangers and steer clear of constantly using mobile devices while walking.
Both Nutter and Ramsey also urged parents to talk to their kids and let them know the ramifications of participating in the "game."
"Physically assaulting someone is a crime," Nutter said. "If you commit it, we’re gonna find you, we’re gonna arrest you and you’ll more than likely go to jail.”
"Looking at what’s happened in other cities, this has been mostly school age kids, so we’ve had some conversation about making sure that this whole thing is discussed and brought up in school so that kids know that this is the kind of behavior that’s not going to be tolerated at all," Ramsey said. "Talk to your kids, pay attention to what they’re doing, who they’re hanging with. Don’t get caught up in this group thing.”
Both Nutter and Ramsey also spoke on claims from some residents that the attacks were racially motivated and consisted of African American teens attacking white people.
“We look at all the crimes in the city,” Nutter said. “If something were a hate crime, that’s an additional charge. Our primary focus is to make sure that citizens are safe. If you get assaulted, you're not gonna feel any better if you’re African American, if another African American hits you versus a white person. A hit is hit! If you bang your head on the ground I don’t think you’re really thinking about what the color was. That’s for us to kind of sort through and that goes to motive and a whole bunch of other factors."
Ramsey cited one attack that occurred back on November 11 on Verree Road as an example of why it was difficult to classify the attacks as racially motivated.
“The Verree Road situation was a white victim and white offenders," Ramsey said. "We’ve had all kinds of mixtures here so it’s really not easy to say that this is the motivation. Stupidity could be the motivation. But should we find that these attacks are because of gender bias, sexual orientation, race, or any kind of bias at all and we uncover that during the course of the investigation, we will present that as part of our investigative packet to the District Attorney for their consideration of the appropriate charges.”
Mark Cumberland, the victim of the assault on Verree Road, spoke to NBC10 Monday night. Cumberland says a group of teens randomly attacked him outside Verree Pizza.
"One of them asked me for a cigarette and when I came out of the store, they just started hitting me," Cumberland said. "I just kept being hit in the throat, face, chest, whereever. I just know my whole face was beat up."
Police eventually arrested a 15-year-old and 17-year-old teen in connection to the assault. Cumberland says he's thankful the city is taking a stand against the random attacks.
"There's going to be serious consequences to their actions," he said. "So they better watch what they do."