Head of NYC Cops & Kids gets outpouring of support to keep boxing program alive

Ring the bell!

When the owners of Flatbush Gardens, the quality, affordable apartment complex in East Flatbush, read a story that appeared in this space in January about a former narcotics detective named Patty Russo, of NYPD Boxing, who runs NYC Cops & Kids, they reached out to him.

The PAL, in its infinite wisdom and lasting meanness, closed all the boxing gyms in New York, including ones that Russo ran in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and Park Hill on Staten Island.

Since his appointment in 2006, PAL head Felix Urrutia says PAL had gone through a “paradigm change.” He says boxing insurance costs too much. That certain corporate funding streams complained that boxing was “barbaric.” That “old school” boxing guys aren’t accountable to the PAL “corporation.”

PAL’s decision to downsize boxing left an awful lot of inner-city kids who’d chased dreams in the squared circle of truth out on the street, where gangbangers fight with knives and guns instead of gloves.

It made zero sense.

“Right after that column appeared, I got a call from Assemblyman Nick Perry,” says Russo. “He’s worked with J.J. Bistricer, son of one of the owners of Flatbush Gardens, and said that they wanted to donate the 2,500-square-feet space for a boxing gym for the young people of the East Flatbush community. I was floored.”

“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” says J.J. Bistricer. “We had been trying to figure out what to do to improve the quality of life in and around Flatbush Gardens. Here was a program that took kids off the street, gave them a place to fight for a dream, under the direction of ex-policemen and firefighters, which makes this a very good use of the space. State Sen. Kevin Parker also said he knew this was a good organization.”

Ring the bell!

Right after that, Dustin Hoffman‘s assistant called Russo to say that the Oscar-winning actor and his wife, Lisa, had read the column. “She said Dustin was a big boxing fan,” says Russo, “and loved that ex-cops from Cops & Kids were teaching inner-city kids discipline and self-respect through boxing with hopes that we might steer some into NYPD.”

Hoffman, a truly great guy, sent Russo a nice fat check.

“It was a lifesaver,” Russo says. “Dustin’s money and the purse from the NYPD Boxing show at Madison Square Garden built this beautiful new gym with two rings, six heavy bags, speed bags, new lockers where 200 kids aged 12-21 can train at a cost of $50 a year. A lot of lives will be saved here, untold crimes will be prevented here. And it’s not costing the city one nickel.”

Ring the bell!

Russo’s next call was to Teddy Atlas at the Dr. Theodore Atlas Foundation, hands-down the best charity in New York that takes care of people that fall through the cracks of big established charities.

“Teddy bailed out the Park Hill gym in Staten Island by having the Atlas Foundation cover the insurance costs and other trainer expenses,” says Russo. “And he immediately agreed to help out with Flatbush Gardens. That means two boroughs now have boxing gyms, filling the holes left by PAL, for kids to train in, thanks to the Atlas Foundation.”

“What some people like those at the PAL don’t understand is that boxing prevents violence,” says Atlas. “I learned from my father, who was a doctor who made house calls to the poor, that most times the best medicine is preventative medicine. Our foundation usually helps kids who are sick and maimed. This time we’re helping kids from being lost to the violence of the street by getting them into a boxing gym where they’ll learn self-respect, which translates into respect for others. Boxing gives hope to kids who come from hopeless situations. It’s a disgrace that PAL turned its back on boxing. They turned their backs on the kids who needed them most. This gym will give some of those kids back the hope.”

Tomorrow, when Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and local pols come to celebrate the grand opening of the Flatbush Gardens Boxing Club, made possible by a Jewish landlord, an Irish-American fight guru and an Italian-American ex-NYPD narcotics detective – with an assist from Ratso Rizzo – for the minority kids of East Flatbush, a very loud and harmonious bell will ring, signaling that Brooklyn just became a more hopeful place.

“This proves there are good people out there who do give a damn about these kids,” says Russo. “Mark my words: Crime will go down, kids will be saved, and we’ll recruit terrific new cops, produce proud citizens and a lot of champions. Everybody wins.”

Ring the bell!