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The 'safe' fights hitting Jamaica

By Nick Davis
BBC News, Jamaica

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Nick Davies watches the fights

The streets around Denham Town in Kingston were once some of the most violent in Jamaica.

Just a year ago, it was the scene of a six-hour gun battle between the police and a gang of teenage boys armed with AK-47 and M16 rifles.

People who live in the area decided to help themselves, and used violence, once a problem, as the cure.

They're bringing local people together for a weekly street boxing contest.

It's entertainment that sees everyone involved, from young boys and girls doing it for fun through to serious contenders.

And the road becomes a colourful, noisy, makeshift ring as punters bet on the amateur fighters.

Dancehall and ganja

Boxing has never seen anything like this. "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls - are you ready to rumble...?!" yells John, the commentator.

This ring is unlike anything I've ever seen before. It's got rope - although that's about the only thing that looks regulation - and there's asphalt where the canvas should be.

The corners are steel pans cut in half with rubber tyres round them to offer some form of protection, and the posts are kept in place with concrete.

As for the atmosphere: imagine boxing mixed with a street party - dancehall booms from the soundsystem and clouds of ganja fill the night sky.

"Everybody is talking about Thursday night at the fights! They're just dying for Thursday to come along," says one regular.

At around midnight there are probably close to 800 spectators - a mixture of adults and children, male and female, all using any vantage point possible.

There are people on top of a zinc roof opposite looking directly down on the action. They have the best seats in the house.

Violent past

A year ago, people in the area said they'd never seen it so bad.

Many inner city communities in Kingston are used to violence. Despite its small population of 2.7m people, Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Last year saw over 1500 people murdered on the island.

Along with neighbouring Tivoli Gardens, the area is run by a man known as the 'President', the Don whose power is absolute.

His say so is one of the reasons why the neighbourhood is less violent, but through sport, people say things are now better inside and outside their community.

And they talk of Denham Town as one of the safest parts of downtown Kingston.

"It brings the peace and all of that," says Owen, one of the promoters.

"People from all about, Rema, Jungle, come and take in a little boxing. Police, soldier, everybody likes the event we a deal with."

Organisers say the event helps bring the community together as well as people who live outside it.

They hope that it'll encourage more young people to get involved in sport and away from trouble on the streets.


SEE ALSO
Jamaica poor 'at mercy of gangs'
01 Apr 08 |  Americas
Jamaica struggles to fight crime
16 May 07 |  Americas
Jamaica: The new Wild West
10 Aug 02 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Country profile: Jamaica
06 Feb 08 |  Country profiles

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