Of course, I guess when your governor is Rick Scott, you shouldn’t be expecting much good news out of Tallahassee. I’m still trying to figure out who the idiots are who elected him.
If there is any good news, it usually has to do with the FSU Seminoles. They finished this season ranked 25 in the polls, so I guess they’ll be playing in the Vlasic Pickle Bowl or something. Apparently that’s not high enough to be invited to the Chick-fil-a Bowl. I mean seriously, people, how can you take a championship game seriously when it has a name like that? I’m aware that there is a huge debate raging over the whole Bowl system (yawn). I tend to fall on the side of those who say there should be a true playoff system, like basketball has.
All that aside, Tallahassee has made national news this week for unpleasant reasons. The fun parts of living in Tallahassee are not news. Like the part where they finished putting up all the holiday lights in the trees in the Chain of Parks. This is a six-block area on a divided street, Park Avenue, where the medians are all tiny little parks. Full of live oaks covered in Spanish moss and Resurrection ferns. It takes forever to put up the lights throughout the live oaks, but starting today, they will all be illuminated through New Year’s. It’s inexpressibly cheering to be greeted by this sight every day when you work downtown as I do.
But Tallahassee made the news for two reasons that are quite depressing, one not so public as the other. That one concerned the disappearance of a Tallahassee real estate appraiser named Mike Williams on December 16, 2000. I’d say that it’s only in the last few years that I’ve been aware of this story, because there’s a writer for the Tallahassee Democrat who keeps it alive.
I was in Tallahassee at the time of Williams’ disappearance, but I had only been here for about two weeks. I was still trying to figure out the best way to drive from my house to my office, and fighting my way through the satellite trucks to get there. Because what was going on then? The infamous recount.
But this week, Williams’ disappearance was profiled on the Discovery ID channel, in a program called “Disappeared”. Williams went duck hunting (allegedly) alone on Lake Seminole on the morning of his disappearance and was never seen again. Apparently it isn’t a very big lake, and it isn’t very deep. No trace of his body was ever found. His best friend, who helped in the two-week long search, floated the idea that Williams had been eaten by alligators. Not so, said a biologist that by some strange coincidence, I happen to know personally. It was too cold. Alligators do not, and physically cannot, feed in those temperatures. There are many more twists and turns to the story.
But the main thing Tallahassee became nationally known for has to do with the “other” school here–Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, aka, FAMU, or locally as we call it, just FAM. About two weeks ago, a 26 year old drum major for the band–known as the Marching 100–was found dead on the band bus in Orlando, after a trip to the Florida Classic, and it has something to do with hazing. It turns out the autopsy was inconclusive, so I guess when they find out who did it, they won’t be charged with outright murder. Which is a pity.
The Marching 1oo is actually about 400 people strong, and it’s a legendary band. They played at President Obama’s inauguration. They played at half-time during a Super Bowl. And they deserved to–they are spectacular, and a great source of pride for everyone in Tallahassee. But. The entire band is now suspended, and they’ve fired the band director who is also Chairman of the music department. Which as more begins to come out appears to be a classic case of scapegoating.
At least three very thoughtful editorials have come out about this in the newspaper. The first one said, you will never ever stop this by targeting the professors or the administration of the university, no matter how good it might make you feel. If you want it to stop, you have to change the hearts and minds of the people who are doing it, and those who are submitting to it. These events largely take place off-campus and no member of the teaching staff or university administration is likely to even ever hear about it until it’s too late.
The second editorial said, you can’t call what happened to Robert Champion (the name of the drum major) “hazing”. It was brutality. We need a new definition. The writer talked about his own “initiation” into the Marine Corps. When I was in high school, I was “initiated” into the Sub-Deb Club, and I remember it as dressing up in silly clothes and being paraded through the popular teen hot spots. When I was promoted to my current position, we had to get up before our fellow managers and sing a song. These experiences were humiliating, but at least we knew we would not end up dead.
The third editorial quotes a retired Tallahassee clinical psychologist, and past president of the National Association of Black Psychologists, Na’im Akbar, who says, this is an abuse of power, and people with a legacy of oppression don’t really grasp what power means. “Normal power is based on competency or mastery, but this distorted power is based on domination.” Yes.
On Thursday, the story made the CBS Evening News. It resonates far beyond the confines of little Tallahassee. Meanwhile, the day before, Robert Champion was buried in his hometown of Decatur, Georgia–in his FAMU drum major’s uniform.