Comment: No quick and easy fix for "king hit" culture


The recent spate of alcohol-fuelled violence across the country is a tragedy - but it's also part of a complex social phenomena with no "silver bullet" solution, writes Alex McClintock.

Oscar Ruben was outside a Sussex Street pub when John Arthur, a 31-year-old Seaman, punched him three times in the face with “no provocation”.

Robert Frisby was also in a “nightlife precinct” when William Kenny, 26, walked up to him and punched him so hard he swallowed two of his teeth.

The same thing happened to Alfred Finch not far away; he had the misfortune to be set upon by two men who bashed him for no apparent reason.

These savage “king hit” attacks all had one thing in common - they happened in the 1890s. There’s nothing new about random acts of “alcohol-fuelled violence”, just as there’s nothing new about media driven moral panics.

The current fixation on “king hits” stems from a series of high profile incidents, chief among them the death of 18-year-old Thomas Kelly, who died after Kieren Loveridge punched him in Sydney’s King’s Cross.

Loveridge pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to a minimum term of four years in prison. The sentence, perceived as lenient, prompted widespread outrage in the media and moves by the NSW government to adopt a harsher “one-punch law” of the kind already in action in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

On New Year’s Eve, the controversy was re-ignited when 18-year-old Daniel Christie was allegedly “king hit” just down the road from where Thomas Kelly died. He is now in critical condition at St Vincent’s Hospital.

Professor Gordian Fulde, the director of the St Vincent’s Emergency Department, took to breakfast television yesterday to speak on the crisis.

“What’s on the rise is the viciousness, the number of people who are punching to kill ... I want to kill this person and punch their head in,” said Dr Fulde.

Politicians wasted no time in jumping on the bandwagon. Barry O’Farrell told ABC radio he was “appalled” at the incident. Acting NSW Opposition Leader Linda Burney ratcheted up the emotion and paranoia one step further, stating: “Parents across the city know you do not go to sleep at night until you hear the key in the front door.”

I am in no way trying to trivialise the experiences of these young men or their families. The violence is shocking and the pain they’re going through is very real.

But if we allow emotion to get in the way of the facts, as politicians, parts of the media and people on the frontlines are wont to do, the end result will be bad policies that protect nobody and stop regular citizens from enjoying themselves.

The reality, as acknowledged by Premier O’Farrell, is that since 2008 violence - both the alcohol-fuelled and regular unleaded varieties - in Kings Cross is down by more than 25%, while on Oxford St that figure is closer to 50%.

Thankfully, unprovoked assaults by complete strangers are relatively rare. A Monash University report from earlier this year suggests that up to 90 people have been killed in “one punch” incidents since 2000, but that two-thirds of victims knew their attackers.

Now there’s a push to replace the term “king hit” with the term “coward punch”. While such a move is understandable, it won’t achieve anything - apart from making people feel good and giving copy editors headaches.

Young men don’t belt each other because they think “king hit” sounds cool. They do it because they don’t understand how dangerous it is, because they have no outlet and because the rest of us can’t make up our mind about what kinds of violence are acceptable.

Those problems won’t be solved with a name change.

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