Sunday, May 20, 2018
Editorials

Correcting a culture of hazing

Florida A&M University leaders were in denial for decades about the corrosive culture that led five months ago to the hazing death of student drum major Robert Champion. But charges filed Wednesday against 13 people are a key step in correcting that culture and ensuring a brighter future at Florida's only public, historically black university. After years of acquiescence — the majority of FAMU students who engaged in hazing escaped penalty — the state of Florida is now sending the right message to students: You will be held to account for your actions; there will be consequences. That is progress.

Champion's mother was reportedly disappointed when she learned the 13 individuals charged in her son's death will not face tougher charges. That's understandable. For the 11 suspects charged with the most serious crime — hazing resulting in a death, a felony — the maximum sentence is six years. Two others face only misdemeanor charges. But Lawson Lamar, the state attorney in Orange and Osceola counties, said he did not have the evidence to levy harsher charges, including murder. "We can prove participation in hazing and a death," Lamar said. "We do not have a blow or a shot or a knife thrust that killed Mr. Champion."

That's the insidious thing about hazing. Group dynamics lead individual participants to rationalize their own participation, lack of intervention or silence in the face of the bullying force. The desire to fit in, on the part of both hazers and victims, just feeds the problem until someone righteously intervenes. And when an institution has a history of ignoring alarms — including from the band's director — or quietly dealing with the ones it can't ignore, it is a tacit acceptance of the hazing behavior.

That's exactly what happened with FAMU's world-renowned Marching 100 band. Despite repeated evidence of serious hazing leading to hospitalizations of members, university leaders never took dramatic action until the death of Champion, 26. The drum major, who played clarinet, apparently died from injuries suffered after a game in Orlando when he was directed to walk up and down the aisle of the band bus while he was beaten and paddled by bandmates.

It took this young man's death and his family's sacrifice to finally wake up the FAMU community and all of Florida to the dangers of a culture that tolerated such mental and physical torment. In the five months since, students and alumni have rallied in support of change. The university has shut down the band for now and put its director on paid suspension; allowed two band staff members to quit after information surfaced they had witnessed hazing; suspended enrollment in other campus organizations until fall; and is working with national experts on building an antihazing culture.

Wednesday's charges are a crucial step in reinforcing that progress. They are a reminder that even in the insular environment of a university, individuals must be accountable to the law. Hazing will not be tolerated in Florida. There are consequences.

Comments
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

It’s a safe bet Florida will get caught up in the frenzy to legalize wagering on sports following the U.S. Supreme Court opinion this week that lifted a federal ban. Struggling horse and dog tracks would love a new line of business, and state l...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/16/18