Bayamon, Puerto Rico — This morning, former boxing champion Hector Camacho (50) went into cardiac arrest and died at 1:45 AM. Born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico and raised in Spanish Harlem, New York, The Macho Man expired as a result of injuries sustained during a shooting last Tuesday that left Camacho brain dead.
According to police, a parked vehicle was blocking the Ford Mustang driven by Camacho’s friend, Yamil Alberto Mojica. Mojica exited his car, probably to ask the driver of the other car to move. Shots rang out, hitting and killing Mojica. Bullets sprayed Mojica’s car in which Camacho remained. One bullet struck Camacho in the face, shattering his jaw and penetrated C5 and C6 of his cervical spine. Another bullet struck Camacho in the right shoulder.
The family’s decision to remove Camacho from life support came with understandable grief. Earlier this week, his mother, Maria Matias, told reporters in a press conference outside Centro Medico hospital, “I lost my son three days ago. He’s alive only because of a machine…My son is not alive. My son is only alive for the people who love him.“
In a stellar career that achieved a 79-6-3 record, Camacho transcended the ring with a flamboyance rarely seen in the world of sports. Camacho was footballs’s Deion Sanders, basketball’s Walt “Clyde” Frazier, track and field’s Usain Bolt, and golf’s Chi Chi Rodriguez — bundled and wrapped in boxing gear. That is, when not draped as a tribal chief, fireman, or Roman soldier!
Camacho burst on the professional boxing scene after a 96-4 amateur career, winning a decision against David Brown on September 12, 1980. For nearly 30 years, he would face-off with the likes of Roberto Durán, Oscar De La Hoya, Sugar Ray Leonard, Félix Trinidad, Julio César Chávez, Vinny Paz, Edwin Rosario, and other icons of Super Featherweight, Junior Welterweight, Super Lightweight, and Lightweight divisions.
Camacho left an indelible mark on the boxing world. Promoter Bob Arum, who promoted Camacho’s fight with then-Arum fighter, Oscar De La Hoya, in 1997, commented: “I always thought he was a bit of a loose cannon, a fool. But when I promoted that fight, I realized he was very, very clever as far as promotion was concerned. He did a lot of stuff for a purpose. And he had an instinct to know what would bring attention to him and the event. I was very, very impressed with him on that promotion.” Camacho understood well that boxing is as much theater as it is sport. Where pay-per-view translated into hefty paydays, Camacho’s flare brought fortunes to himself and opponents.
Tragedies give us time to raise questions. Such is the case with the Camacho murder.
First, what is happening in Puerto Rico with its alarming murder rate? Puerto Rico is an absolutely splendid place. It’s people are fascinating. During one trip, I conveyed to a taxi driver, “There are very beautiful women here.” He replied, “Yes, because we have little bit of everyone in us!” The implications and metaphors of that statements capture the imagination.
Old San Juan is meant for lovers who stroll along in-laid brick walkways. The pristine blue waters crashing against coastal rocks is amazing. Picturesque vistas, historic architecture, swank boutiques, and plush hotels remind guests that this small territory boasts the highest per capita income in the Caribbean.
And yet, with only 3.7 million citizens, the island experienced 1,136 murders in 2011. This other side of Puerto Rico will undoubtedly be the topic of new reports now that violence has claimed one of the island’s most famous sons. If Texas had the murder rate of Puerto Rico, 2011 would have seen 7,869 murders in the Lone Star State. At Puerto Rico’s murder rate, California would have suffered 11,552 killings. It goes without saying that these murder levels would be unconscionable. But we hear very little of the disproportionately high incidents of murder taking place in this United States territory that continues to seek full statehood.
Second, we must ask ourselves, “What should be done to avoid the replay of Camacho’s tragic legacy?” Camacho’s early life included living in the tough James Weldon Johnson Project, frequent fights, petty crimes, and incarceration at age 15. However, Camacho’s total prize fighting earnings exceed what ordinary citizens make in three lifetimes. However, boxing left Camacho resorting to a life reminiscent of his youth. On the night of the shooting, police recovered nine sealed bags of cocaine and another one that was open. We cannot know with certainty that Camacho was linked to any of this, but his presence in that car after such a great career is troubling. In 2007, Camacho was sentenced to seven years in prison for burglarizing a Mississippi computer store. The arresting officer in that burglary also found Camacho in possession of ecstasy. Subsequently, a judge suspended six years of the sentence and placed Camacho on probation. Camacho, however, served two weeks after a probation violation.
One can only imagine the number of companies and individuals through which Camacho’s earnings passed. Much will be said of Camacho’s prowess in the coming days, but we should seek that person who confesses, “Had I concerned myself more about his humanity and less about his commodity, the fallen champion would have lived as a king outside the ring as he did inside.” We heard little of these acknowledgments in the passing of Michael Jackson, Witness Houston, and so many other celebrities. Those neglects virtually assured we would witness what has now visited Hector Camacho. Indeed, without addressing this question of caring intervention, mentorship, and holistic development, we will likely replay others whose once famous voices are quieted.
Third, the circumstances around the shooting — a traffic incident gone bad — should give us pause. Namely, is the sanctity of human life so diminished that a simple request to move an automobile must result in deaths? A very similar situation ended the life of Miami University football standout and Indianapolis Colt, Shane Curry. Thinking about Camacho’s death reminds me of the sirens ringing in the Spring 1992 night as Curry was murdered less than five minutes from my residence. The very idea that a harmless exchange can lead to such violence is a terrible indictment of where we have arrived as a “civilized” people. Perhaps the frequency of these tragedies has dulled our senses. For our own good, let’s pray I am wrong.
Ironically, images of Camacho’s final days are now as striking as those of his flashy days in boxing. And yet, these images should remind us just how precious life is, particularly during a split-second of hostility that has the capacity to end peacefully or at the entrance of a hospital emergency room.
The antics. The showmanship. The props. The pomp and circumstance that defined Camacho’s fights little resemble the bloody clothing and life waning away as a real result of senseless violence. Will the millions of youth who followed The Macho Man be moved that acts of brutality are not “macho”? Will Macho’s young fans recognize that gun-play is not glamorous, but damages and ends lives and assault the hearts of loved ones? A boxing king was sent to a terrible end. An icon who Spanish Harlem neighbors say never lost his caring for people now lays still. And I suspect that when the shooter is brought to justice, we will hear, “I did not know it was Hector in that car.“
We cannot bring Hector Camacho back. However, we can choose to give it an awful purpose to examine our times that are drunk with violence. We can choose to ask and answer serious questions that make us more humane.
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