In late November of last year, Robert Champion Jr was found unresponsive on his school’s band bus. His college, Florida A&M, a historically black college, had just played its biggest football game against Bethune-Cookman. Police ruled the band member’s death a homicide.
His family, who met with the media this week, maintains he died from injuries sustained in a hazing ritual. Others point to his sexuality, and opposition to hazing, as the reasons why he was attacked.
An autopsy showed the 26-year old died due to internal bleeding caused by blunt body blows. No charges have been filed, although authorities are still investigating the crime.
As reported by the Washington Post, hazing is a tradition for members of the university’s marching band. The ritual takes place after the annual Bethune-Cookman game. It’s meant to initiate members into the group, and is allegedly run by a number of band members from ‘Bus C’. Witnesses have told the young man’s parents their son was targeted for hasher treatment because he was against the tradition.
‘The main reason that we heard is because he was against hazing, and he was totally against it,’ Champion’s father, Robert Champion Sr said.
Other witnesses maintain Champion was targeted because he was gay, and in consideration to be a chief drum major. However, Christopher Chesnut, a lawyer for the family, doubts homophobia had anything to do with the student’s death.
‘His sexual orientation was not something he was defined by,’ said Chestnut, as reported by the Washington Post. ‘He was more defined by music. This was not something that he quote, unquote “advertised”. It was a part of who he was.’
The National Black Justice Coalition, the United States’ largest black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, is requesting the federal government to launch its own investigation.
‘Be it hazing or hate crime, justice must be served,’ said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, the NBJC’s executive director.