Baltimore isn't 'Boys Town,' Mayor Young, and boxing matches aren't going to end street violence

There’s a case to be made that providing at-risk youth with the opportunity to train as boxers — with all the discipline and dedication that entails — can help put them on a path to a better life. Baltimore has a long-standing and successful example of that in West Baltimore’s UMAR Boxing, where the motto is “no hooks before books” and where The Educated Boxer, Ph.D. candidate Dorian Bostic, trains. (He won his first professional fight last month.) Amid a crime surge in England in the early 2000s, some British politicians floated the idea of training young men in boxing as a means of reducing street violence, and the idea is the topic of a few sociological research papers, though conclusions are mixed.

What nobody seems to have seriously considered — at least since Spencer Tracy’s character Father Flanagan stuck Mickey Rooney’s Whitey Marsh into the boxing ring to resolve his anger over losing the race for mayor of Boys Town — is using public matches of untrained fighters to settle street beefs. And if that “Boys Town” reference means nothing to you (heck, the movie was from 1938) perhaps that’s an indication of just how weirdly old fashioned is Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s idea that the city should get feuding youths to lace up some boxing gloves in Royal Farms Arena and let “the best man win.”

In a city where violence is too often fueled by cycles of retribution over perceived slights and disrespect, do we really think making a public spectacle of one party to an argument knocking the other to the floor is going to settle things?

Let’s hope Mr. Young focuses instead on the first half of the sentence in which he blurted out his proposal for a Thunderdome on West Baltimore Street and pours more city resources into mediation. The Baltimore Community Mediation Center, Safe Streets and a host of other organizations are already at work in trying to provide tools other than violence to resolve disputes, break down barriers and build community. Programs like those recognize street violence not as the fruit of isolated arguments between individuals but as part of a broader context of broken family and community relationships that need to be healed.

Three new Safe Streets sites opened this spring, bringing the city’s total to seven, but we could use far more. The Roca program, which has shown great results in turning around some of the most troubled young men in Boston, started work in Baltimore last year, but it’s not a quick fix, and it only has funding for four years. We urge the mayor and other city leaders to work to expand and solidify programs like those rather than gimmicks rooted in antiquated notions of toxic masculinity.

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