One punch can kill: Will we ever learn?

Yet again the airwaves and newspapers are dominated with stories of pub fights, king hits and tragic loss.  The loss suffered by the victims of such violence is incomprehensible to me: I have not in my life experienced such violence albeit I have felt the pain that a sudden loss of life does cause with the loss of the my grandfather Allan.   Equally as incomprehensible to me is what makes one think it is alright to king hit someone.

Let’s be clear here: I do not know the facts of either case that are presently in the media. I suspect that both such cases will be played out for some time to come in both the Courts and the media.  It is also important to be clear that I write this blog from the perspective of someone who no longer drinks but until 16 months ago drank to excess regularly and who has often found himself in situations in pubs or clubs where an undercurrent of violence, actual or threatened, has been obvious. 

Whilst it may seem both glib and harsh I think it is important to separate two “one punch” scenarios here:

  1. The “king hit”: this is where an innocent bystander is struck by another person unprovoked or with limited provocation often without the victim knowing their assailant or even why they have been hit; and
  2. The “pub fight”: this is where the combatants have squared off, often in an inebriated state, verbally and then physically and a punch has been thrown.

I have separated these scenarios not because I think the outcome of them have any less effect on the victim or the victim’s family nor because I think in one case a party is blameless whilst in the other blame can be apportioned but because I wonder if there is more that can be done to try to lessen the likelihood of the second scenario.

The first scenario is simply abhorrent and totally inexplicable.  If caught, the perpetrator of the king hit, in any outcome scenario, ought be sent to prison for a long time. There can be no cogent excuse for wantonly hitting someone without warning in any scenario: alcohol or drug fueled or not.  Equally, as a society it seems to me that there is little that can be done to stop such conduct occurring.  I know of no magic formula or education program that is going to stop the perpetrator of such conduct.  Put differently: if the perpetrator is evil enough or mad enough to conduct himself in such a fashion, I don’t know how we stop it.

The second scenario is one that I have been tossing around in my head for some time, in part because I feel lucky that in the 18 years I have attended public drinking establishments in various states of inebriation I have been fortunate to have not been involved in a physical altercation save for breaking up fights on occasion.  When I have thought about it I have always considered that bar fights are just part of life and have explained them away as simply what happens when men get drunk.  That is simply not a good enough response however for the families of those lost to such one punch violence.

A number of solutions have rolled around my mind in the vain hope of coming up with something, indeed anything, that might lower the incidences of alcohol fuelled violence and ultimately deaths and none of them are entirely sustainable or possible.  Prohibition did not work in the United States in the 1920s: if anything there was more violence rather than less.  Curfews and mandatory closing times have led to groups of people roaming the streets in the early hours drunk and seemingly, on occasion, looking for trouble.  Education programs do not seem to work.

The only solution I came up with that might have some possibility of success was making the penalties for the various categories of assault (right through to murder) that might arise harsher.  Additionally, it seemed to me that removing the dual defences of provocation and diminished capacity (on account of being inebriated) might also act as a further deterrent.  I for one do not believe that being a drunken lout should entitle an offender to a lesser sentence or the reduction of a charge from murder to manslaughter.  Harsher penalties may well have a deterrent effect but whether two inebriated individuals in the midst of a verbal confrontation are going to think about the consequences of throwing a punch in the heat of the moment is something that I think is highly questionable in theory.

So where does that leave us? Previously in this blog I have gotten up on the pulpit to preach the virtues of individuals taking personal responsibility for their conduct and living their lives in a fashion that corresponds with their values.  Again, it seems to me that a solution to the problem of alcoholic fuelled violence lies in the hands of the individuals themselves.  Each individual needs to consider, or at least be given the tools to consider, the option of walking from a confrontation and ACTUALLY walking away.   

I question though whether the values that I believe society ascribes to (being that it is better to walk away from a fight than to partake in one) are actually the values that a significant portion of the population of those most likely (being males between the ages of 15 and 40) ascribe to.  Only yesterday, I saw first hand an example of individual who ascribed to the antithesis of those values.  I was mortified to overhear the conversation of a young man (he would have been no more than 20) on the train yesterday evening that can be summarised as follows:

  1. He was just out of jail having been sentenced to a short stint on an assault charge arising from a fight in a pub car park.
  2. He had been to the Broncos v Warriors game on the preceding Friday night and had “belted” a patron sitting behind him because he thought he had heard him say something sarcastic about his girlfriend.
  3. His mother, who was sitting next to him, was proud of him.
  4. He was going out that night with the mates he was conversing with and was wistfully hoping that they would find someone to “fuck up”.

So this guy, if what he said was to be believed, has already been to jail on an assault charge, got into a fight in the week he got out of jail and was looking for another fight.  AND his mother was proud of him.

Whilst I would love to believe that this young man is the exception rather than the rule, and I really hope that he is, whether he is in the minority or not, whilst there are individuals whose values approve of randomly violent conduct incidences of such conduct will not stop and that leaves me to lamentably answer the question posed in the title to this blog in the resounding negative.