On Tuesday, the Orange County State Attorney’s office filed an Amended Information in Circuit Court charging 10 former Florida A&M University band members with manslaughter in the death of Drum Major Robert Champion. As has been previously reported in this column, Champion, an allegedly gay student at the historically black Florida university was killed as the result of a massive beating administered by other band members on November 19, 2011. It has taken over one year and a new State Attorney for Orange County to increase the charges from mere hazing to manslaughter, even though Champion was pummeled, kicked and choked to death by a dozen fellow band members inside their bus after the Florida Classic football game between FAMU and rival Bethune-Cookman, in which the band performed.
State Attorney Jeff Ashton, who defeated long-time Democrat incumbent Lawson Lamar for the job in November of 2012 had no comment on the matter; nor have we heard any comments from the Reverends Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, who have made it a point to participate and speak out at numerous public events, marches and vigils in support of murder charges against George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin. While the Martin case occurred four months after the Champion murder and both victims were African-American, there has been little interest from the so-called black or GLBT community leaders in exploring the hate-crime aspect of the Champion case, perhaps because Champion’s killers were also African-American, perhaps because the university involved is a historically-black State college. Similarly, the local press hasn’t spent any time identifying or reporting on every detail of the background and life history of the 10 accused killers, as they have done with reference to the Defendant Zimmerman in the Martin case.
Perhaps now that the charges against 10 of the Champion defendants have been upgraded to manslaughter (two others were allowed to plead no contest to misdemeanor hazing by the State Attorney’s office) both those who pretend to speak on behalf of the community, and those whose job is to report on events, will move beyond their political causes and speak out on behalf of all victims.
Trial of the Champion defendants is due to take place before Circuit Judge Marc Lubet. No trial date has been scheduled.