It was billed as a way to get at-risk youth to put down the guns and pick up a pair of boxing gloves instead, but a “Stop the Violence” boxing match held in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday night ended with more violence outside the ring than in it.
A man was killed during the shooting at the Skyway Plaza, where the “neighborhood boxing league” event was taking place. According to St. Pete police, a temporary boxing ring was set up in the back parking lot.
Spectrum Bay News 9’s Trevor Pettiford confirmed that St. Pete Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman owns the property and leases it out. She said the victim who was killed was the brother of an employee of hers. Police have identified the victim as Trevon Barton, 21.
Police said around 200 people were at the event when two groups got into an altercation and shots were fired. Four other people, two men and two women, were injured from the gunfire.
So far, police have made one arrest in the case. 21-year old Robert Lee Cooley faces charges of carrying a concealed firearm without a license and discharge of a firearm in public, though more charges could be coming if police determine that he was the one who fired the shot that killed Barton.
St. Petersburg, like many other cities around the country, is still wrestling with a crime wave that began last summer. There have already been more homicides in the city this year than in all of 2020, and the neighborhood boxing league was supposed to be a way for the community to reduce violence, not provide another opportunity for beefs to end with shots fired. One of the boxers who participated in the event this past weekend indicated that the outcome of his match might have had something to do with the shooting.
The boxer shared video from his match Saturday. In that video he is wearing grey shorts and knocks out an opponent from St. Petersburg.
Pielay says the mood quickly changed after that knockout.
“They were real deal mad about me knocking him out,” he said.
He says his match was the last fight of the evening.
“We were already on our way back to Tampa,” he said. Several people called to check on him when the shooting occured. “I’m thinking why is stuff like this going on at an event that says ‘Gloves up, Guns down?”
It’s a question plenty of people have been asking in the Bay area since the shooting.
“The purpose of the [Neighborhood Boxing] League is to bring down violence,” said Pielay, who says he discovered a brotherhood in joining the league.
He says he’s participated in more than a dozen fights with the league and says nothing like this has happened before.
Hopefully it won’t happen again, but you have to wonder if the boxing matches will even be allowed to continue after this past weekend’s fatal shooting. It sounds like at the very least it might be time to tweak the neighborhood boxing league and make it less about the public spectacle and more about the training, education, and discipline that’s needed to be successful in the ring and in life.
This shooting is also a reminder that, despite the good intentions of community groups, some guys simply can’t be reached. They don’t want to change their ways, and no amount of outreach or engagement is going to change their attitude. That doesn’t mean that efforts like this aren’t worthwhile, but they’re also no substitute for a working criminal justice system and our right of self-defense. We will always have individuals in this society with no respect for human life beyond their own, and we must preserve our own ability to protect ourselves and our loved ones from those who would do us harm.