In the Blue Corner: No One Could Accuse Charles Brewer Jr. Of Choosing The Easy Path In Life
Mom always held the same spot for him, perched right next to her on the edge of the living room couch, each time his father fought. Charles Brewer Jr. would lean forward and feel the sting of the punches when his dad, former IBF super middleweight titlist Charles “The Hatchet” Brewer, was hit.
A crimson drop would slowly dribble from Charles Jr.’s nose and eventually turn into a cataract, which Sophia Brewer, Charles’ mom, would stem with a wad of tissues.
“Charles (Jr.) is a police officer and he is Black, and sometimes – especially at this point in time – it’s like having two knives in your back.”
– Charles Brewer Sr.
It happened frequently. Whether it was pent-up nervous tension or excitement, whatever it was, young Charles Brewer Jr. suffered nosebleeds watching his father fight on TV.
The nervousness that once coursed through Charles Jr. has now transitioned to his parents. By day, he battles the country’s discord as a police officer in Pennsauken, New Jersey. At night, “Bam” Brewer is a budding light heavyweight with a 1-0 record.
Other police officers have been pro fighters in the past. Overmatched New York City policeman Richard Frazier comes to mind; Roy Jones Jr. stopped him in two rounds in 1999.
But other fighters who were police officers did not have to face the kind of scrutiny the 26-year-old Brewer Jr. faces policing in today’s social and political climate as a young African American.
“Charles is a police officer and he is Black, and sometimes – especially at this point in time – it’s like having two knives in your back,” explained Charles Sr., who forged a 40-11 record (28 KOs) during a 16-year career.
“If you asked me what is more difficult, being a police officer or being a boxer, I would say being a police officer. Because of the route that they’re on and with that kind of profession, you have a target on your head, unfortunately. I hate to say it in that manner.
“There are a lot of people out there who don’t like cops. Me, as an African American, at this point in time, police officers are not a whole lot of people’s friends. But I am proud of him. Charles is a good kid. He’s following directly in my footsteps. He’s a good police officer and he has his father’s good looks.”
The Hatchet laughed, then paused for a moment. “My son is a look at the police officer of the future,” he said. “My son would not shoot an unarmed man seven times in the back; he would not be one of those bad cops. It’s not part of his nature.”
Brewer Jr. is good at balancing his double life. A 2013 graduate of Pennsauken High School, where he starred in track, he’s a two-year veteran of the Pennsauken Police Department. He also chalked up a 12-0 mark as an amateur fighter.
Boxing was always a part of him.
Charles Jr. was the omnipresent pesky kid who was at the gym each time his father was training. He would play around punching the heavy bag, causing chaos, and as he approached adolescence, his father would ask if he wanted to box.
“But my dad didn’t pressure me,” Bam said. “My dad would ask, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to?’ So I ran track at Pennsauken (where they were among the top six teams in the state). I ran on the relay teams. I loved it. I graduated high school and tried running in college, and it just wasn’t the same.”
One day, he was at Joe Hand’s Gym in Philadelphia and started hitting the bag. He played around when he was younger, so he thought that before he got too old, why not try it? The little things you do when you’re younger, you don’t realize how much that it ties into you. It becomes you.
Charles Jr. would no longer deny his boxing blood.
The fight came with getting his father on board. Charles Sr. owns a computer business. Sophia Brewer runs her own hair salon. Charles Sr. grew up in rugged North Philly. He used boxing as a way out of the hardcore streets – and to make a better life for his family.
Bam did not have to endure what his dad did. Because of the punches dad took, Charles Jr. and his two younger siblings grew up in a good neighborhood with good schools and stability.
But The Hatchet is also old-school. He likes to say, “You don’t play boxing. Boxing is a lifestyle.”
Charles Sr. knows there is always the risk of being carried out of the ring without the chance of putting those gloves on again.
It’s why it took some doing for Bam to convince his father to train him when he was 19.
“At first, my dad didn’t want to train me,” Bam said. “For two weeks I would ask my dad, ‘When are we going to go train? When are we going to train?’ When he did come with me, it was training, but more so training to stay in shape. Then we went to sparring, and my dad finally started giving me more and more of a chance.”
The Hatchet, however, wanted to see the same gleam in his son’s eye that he possessed. He would watch his son’s workouts. He would critique his movement and stress fundamentals. Yet those instructions seemed to go in one ear and out the other.
So Charles Sr. had an interesting way of finding out if his son had what it took: He put Bam in with respected Philly pros Jesse Hart, Hank Lundy and Eddie Chambers. Out of respect for The Hatchet, they asked him if he just wanted them to box Bam.
“I told them the hell with me being cool; I wanted them to spank his ass,” Charles Sr. said, laughing. “They went out there and did what I asked them to do. Charles held his own. That told me something. He held his own and came back. I saw what I was working with. I started to see me in him.
“I needed to see a part that was just not coming out of him yet. When it was me, it always existed, and that’s that animalistic part that I always had. I wanted to see that killer instinct. This trainer-father thing wasn’t easy.
“There were times when I had to get on him. You have to separate being his trainer and being his father. That’s a patience thing; I had to develop patience. I wanted him to be like me. Charles would look at me sometimes and just say, ‘Dad, you gotta calm down when you’re working with me.’ It reached a point where I had to get on myself about it. I told him the path has already been paved. All he has to do is walk it.”
It was the other path that no one saw coming – not even Charles Jr.
He attended Rowan University for a couple of years, then took up economics at Ashford University online. He has a year remaining to complete his bachelor’s degree. When he was 22, he took the New Jersey law enforcement exam. His maternal aunt is a 17-year Philadelphia police officer who was like an older sister to Bam growing up.
Charles Jr. liked the steady pay and he liked the aspect of helping people. The New Jersey law enforcement exam applies to a variety of positions, from prison guards to being a police officer. At 22, he landed a job as a prison guard at Camden County jail. It baptized him into a different world.
“I dealt with everyone – murderers, drug dealers. I got thrown right in, and that was very good for me, because I saw a lot of things close up,” Charles Jr. said. “I got tested a few times. Sometimes I had to deal with some things. I had a sergeant there who told me he liked how I dealt with situations. He also gave me great advice: Be respectful to them and the prisoners would be respectful to me.”
In November 2018, Brewer Jr. got a certified letter informing him that he was eligible for the Pennsauken police department. He’d adjusted to the prison job and liked it, but he was urged by his family to respond. His fiancée is also a Pennsauken police officer.
So he took the job.
Two years have gone by, and Bam finds himself in a far more polarized society than when he entered the force.
His sphere, like every cop in America, changed on May 25, 2020. That’s when George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, was killed in Minneapolis while being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill.
Video of the arrest went viral, showing Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Floyd, handcuffed and lying on his stomach, repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe.
“I would stop something being done by another cop, if I saw something wrong,” Bam said. “I will say being a police officer recently, it’s a lot different. When I grew up, we looked up to the cops. We knew the cops were there for our protection.
“Today, it’s not that way. It used to be you would wear your hat or your police shirt. You used to be proud to be a police officer. It was a position of high stature. Obviously, not anymore. There is a difference in the pride of being a police officer. But I’m very proud of what I do.”
Charles Jr. gets approached by former high school classmates asking why he became a cop.
“I tell them that I will be Black a lot longer than I will be a cop, and I understand what it’s like, because when I’m not in uniform, I don’t want to say that I have the same fears,” Bam said. “Sometimes in my culture there are certain things embedded. There are certain ideas, certain thoughts towards authority, towards your doctor, towards your teacher.
“It’s in the movies, it’s in the music. It’s all around, in everything all of the time. I’ve been stopped; I’ve been stopped in my own community. My own personal experiences have been positive. I was stopped one time with five Black kids in the car, driving to go play ball and we were speeding. The cop let us go.
All of my experiences have been positive, but I do see and understand the other side. I see why people are angry.”
Sophia Brewer can’t win. She was terrified each time her husband fought and now has it twofold with her oldest being a cop on top of a fighter.
“If you don’t like the system, you should do something about it. If you don’t like how cops are, become a cop.”
– Charles Brewer Jr.
Bam himself admits that things are far different than they were two years ago. But he has a solution to a national problem: Do something about it with dialogue and action.
“I’m more concerned today every time I put the uniform on, because I do feel – even though I mind my own business and don’t know anyone’s prior intentions – that if there was a target on my back before, it’s times 100 now,” Bam said. “Every car stop, no matter what, since I’m an African-American cop and pull someone over who’s Black and don’t let them go, I am now a complete traitor if I give them a ticket.
“I’ve actually had people tell me, ‘You’re giving me this ticket and you’re Black!’ I tell them, ‘I pull over anyone if they’re speeding or blowing a red light or stop sign.’ I don’t care what race you are; I’m pulling them over. I also understand the other side of it and I will let someone go.
“Moving forward, we have to bridge the gap between communities and the police. I think it’s the police officer and the department’s responsibility to bridge that gap, because no one is going to come up and speak to a police officer. Not today.
“If you don’t like the system, you should do something about it. If you don’t like how cops are, become a cop. We need more young Black people to get into law enforcement. That’s the easiest way to change it.”
Charles Jr. said he still wants to be a police officer five years from now, but he admits boxing has been a quiet journey he would like to take.
“I would love to be a world champion. I would love to have the opportunities my dad had. And when people hear the name Charles Brewer, I want them to think of Charles Brewer Jr.,” he said, laughing. “I’m proud to have my dad in my corner. I trust him. He’s done it – and done it to the highest level. I just have to do what he tells me to do and I think I’m going to be all right.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.