Residents of Eaton Rapids are watching a disturbing trend in their city. Officials there have been looking into a rise in teen fighting.
Though no one’s known to have been seriously hurt, the scuffles have grown in popularity, in part because of videos of a few fights that ended up online. As community leaders await the results of a police investigation, they’re thinking about how to respond.
Eaton Rapids authorities have said at least a dozen fights took place between late March and early May. Several were videoed and ended up temporarily on You Tube. Eaton Rapids Schools’ Superintendent Bill DeFrance has seen two of them.
“These events are not supervised,” he says. “Somebody can take a shot to the head or another part of their body and suffer severe injuries. And at the same time somebody who is punching and does some damage really could be scarred for life if the person they hit got hurt.”
So far, none of the fighting has taken place on school property. Still, when they’ve been able to identify a participant or a spectator, school officials have informed parents.
This 17-year old Eaton Rapids High School junior—who has asked to remain anonymous—downplays the intensity of the matches, calling them “for fun” fights.
“I’ve been to two fights. Afterwards, they helped each other up, gave each other a hug, and then they were still friends afterwards,” he recounts. “Nobody became an enemy from the fights. Nobody was an enemy before the fight.”
And among the dozen-plus incidents, no one is known to have been seriously hurt. Still, many are concerned. Since a complaint was filed, Eaton Rapids police are investigating. When that’s completed, Chief Paul Malewski is prepared to turn the results over to the Eaton County Prosecutor’s office.
One local business owner is concerned enough to get involved. Jason Smith teaches boxing and martial arts in Eaton Rapids and he runs a downtown fitness and boxing center. For the summer, he’s offering area teens the chance to use the gym as a safer alternative to spontaneous brawling. And, he says, it’s on the house.
“That’s enough profit for me, that’s enough incentive for me—to not see one of those kids get in trouble for trying to emulate something that I do as a sport, because it’s glorified in the media,” he says.
Smith says he’s talked to a number of the kids involved and a few have visited his gym. He worries that some of the fighters resist the idea of protective equipment and rules. He says several have commented they want to take what they see on TV and go further.
While the community waits on the results of the police investigation, people are trying to determine how serious a problem they’ve got. Will the police and schools’ involvement--and parental awareness--be enough to avert a serious injury or should the community respond more vigorously?
Dr. Carl Taylor is a Michigan State University sociologist. He’s studied youth violence for decades. For his part, Taylor advocates avoiding extreme responses.
“They go to one extreme that ‘It’s just kids’ play’ and it’s not,” he says. “Or they go to the other extreme of ‘We must banish and stop this right now and we can clamp down on it’ and it’s not that simple.”
Taylor calls families “the first line of defense.” But interestingly, he also says people would be surprised at the number of families who sanction fighting. If that’s happening, he says the encounters are going to be harder to control.