The AJC is reporting that 13 people have been charged in the death of Robert Champion, a Florida A&M University drum major from DeKalb.
The beating death of the Southwest DeKalb High grad in November brought attention to the dangerous culture of hazing on campuses, but particularly in the famed Marching 100 of FAMU.
When Champion was killed, I spoke to Hank Nuwer, the author of four books on hazing. Among his books are “Wrongs of Passage: Fraternities, Sororities, Hazing, and Binge Drinking” and “Broken Pledges: the Deadly Rite of Hazing.”
A journalism professor at Franklin College in Indiana, Nuwer explained in a telephone interview why college students and band members endure hazing that turns vicious and sometimes deadly. “We cannot get enough of wanting to be wanted. Students think that joining this fraternity or this band constitutes whether or not they have a happy college experience, ” he said.
Students also are drawn by the appeal of being part of an outlaw culture, “this exhilaration of doing things together that are outside the norm, ” Nuwer said.
Whatever the appeal, the consequences were catastrophic at FAMU. One life was lost, and 13 others are about to be changed forever, regardless of the outcome of the case.
Florida State Attorney Lawson Lamar said he would not immediately release the names of those charged since they are still at large. He called the beating death of 26-year-old Robert Champion “nothing short of an American tragedy.”
He said Champion’s death was not the result of a single blow but was “attributable to multiple blows.”
Lamar said 11 of the suspects would be charged with hazing with death, a felony which carries a maximum sentence of six years. He said the evidence in the case would not support a charge of murder. “Hazing is a term for bullying,” Lamar said. “It is a tradition we cannot tolerate in America.”
He said 20 other people would be charged with hazing in unrelated incidents in which there were not serious injuries.
The charges will bring more scrutiny to a culture of hazing at FAMU and other schools. The death of Champion, a graduate of Southwest DeKalb High, was ruled a homicide by medical examiners, and the case has jeopardized the future of FAMU’s legendary marching band and shaken the school’s Tallahassee campus.
“The family’s position is if indeed there are charges tomorrow, it’s been a long time in coming,” Christopher Chestnut, an attorney for Champion’s parents, said Tuesday evening. “It is bittersweet. Obviously it’s comforting to know that someone will be held accountable for Robert’s murder, but it’s also disconcerting to think of the impact of the future of these students. This is just unfortunate all the way around.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog