Up until a few years ago, I wasn't sure what hazing was. It was quite a difficult thing for me to figure out judging by its usual connotation. But once I began reading story after tragic story, it became clear. These tales of juvenile ridicule run amuck remind me of the initiations/abuse that fraternities used to put their prospects through. The upper class men would take pleasure in subjecting some desperate freshmen to their vile, idiotic, whims. I've heard stories about some of them being made to swallow a piece of raw liver, or a live goldfish. Notorious tales of young men being spanked with huge wooden paddles seemed almost too insane to believe, but some turned out to be true.
It never made any sense to me. I have never been and never will be a huge fan of self deprecation, or public humiliation, and the only man who has ever spanked me is the man who brought me into this world. Given the fact that hazing and things of that nature thrive by pushing the envelop it was only a matter of time before things went too far.
A fatal beating that began as a welcome to the famed Florida A&M marching band and became a symbol for the anti-hazing movement has resulted in expanded charges.
Twelve former band members now face charges of manslaughter in the 2011 death of drum major Robert Champion.
The new charges were announced at a hearing Monday. Last spring, 10 band members were charged with third-degree felony hazing. A conviction could result in a prison term of up to six years. The additional charges can mean up to 15 years in prison.
State Attorney Jeff Ashton also filed charges against two more band members.
Champion's parents, Pamela and Robert Champion Sr., have sued the school and other parties. FAMU has failed to make a comment at the time of this writing.
The Champions' lawyer, Christopher Chestnut, said they learned of the added charges last week in a meeting with Ashton via Skype.
The Champions, who live in Decatur, Ga., had complained that the initial charges were too lenient given the fact that Champion wasn't hurt by hazing but, he was killed by hazing.
Neither the Champions nor Ashton's office responded to phone calls requesting comment.
Two former band members pleaded guilty to hazing last year; they do not face new charges. They were sentenced to probation and community service.
Champion, 26, died in November 2011 after a hazing conducted by band members on a bus in Orlando after Florida A&M had played its football archrival, Bethune Cookman.
His death revealed a culture of hazing in the band, which has played at Super Bowls and presidential inaugurations. The band was suspended for this year.
Mary Madden, co-director of the National Collaborative on Hazing Research and Prevention, said the case
"has brought sustained attention to how serious hazing can be and how serious those consequences can be. I understand a lot of that is attributable to his parents being willing to stay out front in the media, and I give them a lot of credit for that."
An autopsy concluded that Champion suffered blunt trauma blows and died from shock caused by severe internal bleeding. In other words he died as the result of fatal assault, and the perpetrators were his own band mates.
The Champions said their son often spoke out about the band's routine hazing.
Pamela Champion, the victims mother, was quoted as saying,
"He was murdered on that bus, and no one signs up for that."
In December, the State University System of Florida released findings of an investigation into hazing at the school prompted by Champion's death. It found a lack of guidance for enforcing policies against hazing.
To me one of the saddest aspects of this tragedy is the fact that a group of young African-American men, beat the odds, and accomplished what many young men before them had not. They were not only able to attend an institution of higher learning. But they also had the prevalage of being part of an institution, the FAMU marching band. Although Robert Champion Jr. is the only fatality, there are over a dozen people who have been affected by this case. Champion has lost his life, and in effect his future, and it is doubtful that any of the young men involved will continue their education. Young African-American men who made it all the way to college on to become victims of black on black crime.