The Florida Agricultural and Mechanical university or FAMU for short were famed for complicated and spectacular formations and music. They performed at the Super Bowl, 20 members got to perform at the Grammys and they’ve even performed for presidents. Reading this initially I would have thought that band must be hard to get into, you must have to have insane rhythm and musical skill, but as of 2011 it was revealed that it took a lot more to be a part of the famed “Marching 100”.
Robert Champion was a drum major in the university marching band, it is said that he played and socialised with the other members for a while before his death. The Marching 100 had a ritual referred to as “Crossing Bus C” and Bus C (the band’s tour bus) even had a president, a ringleader to the ritual Dante Martin, the challenge was the inducting member would walk from the front of the bus to the back, while other members of the band (that had already been initiated) would beat them until they “touched the back wall of the bus”.
Before Robert Champion’s death, younger members started asking Dante Martin, why Robert hadn’t been through the initiation yet as he had been in the band longer than some other members that had undergone the challenge. Martin then arranged the initiation for Robert, Robert was reported saying to other members that he just wanted “to get it over with”.
On the evening of 19th November 2011 Robert went for his “hazing”. Martin said he had asked Champion whether he still wanted to go through with it and that Champion simply said “Yes”. Robert was put in the “hot seat” and dictated the band rules, the inductees would be made to wear women’s sports bras as they “crossed over”. Keon Hollis, another member inducted that night with Champion told police that he took a shot of alcohol before heading for the bus he said “It was really dark on the bus, I couldn’t really make out faces, but I know it was a lot of people” Hollis was then asked to explain the process and he said “Basically, get on the bus, and you have to take your shirt off and you basically have to make it from the front of the bus to the back of the bus” saying the main goal was to “just get through it as quick as you can”. When asked about Champion’s beating he said “They was using hands, straps, think I saw a comb” he later described it as a large plastic orange comb and that they also used drum sticks and kicks as well.
At the end of his ordeal, Hollis said he walked to the front of the bus, through applause and “hooting and hollering” from the other band mates and threw up from the severity of the beating. Champion started his turn while Hollis composed himself, Champion battled through a rain of fists and feet with a female band member holding him back, making harder for him to escape and to prolong the punishment, at its most severe point one member was reported as climbing on the seats and jumping down on Champion for an estimated 15 seconds, Champion struggled through the hazing and touched the back wall and just like that it was over.
After the hazing Champion asked the other members for water, so they gave him gatorade and he started complaining that he couldn’t breathe and couldn’t see even though his eyes were wide open, he was brought to the front of the bus. Band member Darryl Cearnel told detectives “I checked him, he wasn’t saying anything, he wasn’t responsive or anything” “They was calling his name and he wasn’t saying anything, and I checked his pulse”. They laid Champion on the ground, called 911 while Cearnel did CPR, he said “I can’t even remember, like, if he even came back” “I started doing CPR again, mouth to mouth, started doing chest compresses”. Champion vomited and Cearnel took off his shirt to wipe his mouth, and an ambulance arrived moments later, but Sadly Champion died on the way to hospital.
Robert Champion’s death was ruled as homicide and an investigation began, forcing Florida A&M to cancel all of the remaining scheduled performances for the 2011-2012 school year. Two of the university faculty member resigned in May 2012 following the hazing investigation and 13 people were charged with felony or misdemeanor hazing crimes. Later that month FAMU president James Ammons announced that the band would not return for the the school year in 2013-14 out of respect for Champion and to give the university time to restructure the marching band. In the investigation it was also revealed that at least 101 members of the band were not enrolled at FAMU, and two months later Ammons resigned as FAMU president.
Dante Martin “Bus C president” was accused of felony hazing in Robert Champion’s death, he did plead not guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with another hazing incident. 12 other members were charged with manslaughter for Champion’s death, ten of the members were charged May 2012, but prosecutors are say they are seeking tougher charges.
The band suspension was lifted on June 27th 2013, and academic requirements to join the band were put into place as well as a zero tolerance policy for hazing that applies at all campus organisations.
Dante Martin appeared in court again on 31st October 2014 and was found guilty of manslaughter and three counts of hazing, he was given six to ten years in prison at his sentencing on 9th January 2015.
It Is also worth noting that the university’s attorneys tried to mediate with the attorneys representing the family of Robert Champion after an unsuccessful attempt FAMU offered to pay a $300,000 settlement to the family back in November 2012.
As shocking as this case is, it’s even more shocking to me that “hazing” is quite common and that this case isn’t an isolated one. A few members said during the investigation that the initiation was “a respect thing” and that it was the only way to later progress to a leadership position, but why? Why is someone’s ability to take a brutal beating any reflection on their ability to play music in a marching band? I am aware that we have similar rituals here in the UK, I’ve heard the rugby club stories, but most of them just involve stupid drinking games and it’s very rare it goes to the point physical violence is inflicted.
This makes me think of the instinct of “pack mentality” all we want as humans is to be accepted, all our lives, as children and teenagers we want our peers to accept us and approve of us and as we grow older it develops into wanting you co-workers and bosses to accept you and look upon you favourably. It’s amplified in a team or group setting like a sports team, sorority/frat houses, even just groups of friends, I believe the people hazing that night did not know how severe they were beating Champion, as Hollis mentioned alcohol was involved we have an old saying in the UK “beer in, brains out” so a few that were inflicting the beating probably lost control, as well as the element of fear, a few probably saw that Robert was starting to struggle but were to scared to stop it out of fear for their own safety, that’s the danger of a pack, they can turn at any moment.
This case is just a complete tragedy a promising young man has lost his life in a horrific way, and my heart goes out to his family, and several other young men that were involved in something stupid have been branded for life in the sense of they’re names will always be attached to the case and they have to live with the psychological scars of their parts in what they did to Robert for life and rightly so of course, all schools should take note of Robert’s case and keep a close eye on the organisations that they may run, to ensure that no young person has to endure this ever again and so that no family has to suffer like Robert’s family.