Bad News From Tallahassee

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.

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10 responses to “Bad News From Tallahassee

  1. I would agree with you that the FAMU Administration is using Dr. White as a scapegoat despite his proof that he asked the higher ups for help. Having said that, we can’t speculate or make judgments until all of the facts have been presented.

    I would be very careful about bringing race into your analysis as if hazing is exclusive to the black community. Dr. Akbar may be a smart man but how then, would he explain hazing at a white institution?

  2. One of the reasons I happily quit band in high school was that hazing was rampant and encouraged by the band director. I can only hope that the situation has improved there.

  3. Well hi, ee. I expect Dr. Akbar would probably explain it the same way. Even if you don’t have a history of oppression as a people, people are oppressed in other ways, such as by their families, which creates a need for belonging.
    I did not analyze anything. I quoted from analyses by three other people, all of whom I agree with. Bringing race into it is something only two of the three did. Both of them being black. It almost amuses me that race is something only you are permitted to bring up. And I don’t see how you can “analyze” it properly without that factor.

  4. Fakesister, I learn something new about you all the time. I never knew you dropped out of band. I remember you playing clarinet, but I don’t remember you stopping. But I was long gone from there in my head by 15, even if not in person. Was the hazing like this kind I posted about? Painful? Or just embarassing? Even if it was only the latter, I don’t see you being the kind of person who was willing to put up with that.

  5. I think that anybody can talk about race but I don’t see what it has to do with Champion’s death. The issue is hazing and I think that is what needs to be talked about.

    When we bring race into the conversation, we make it about that! IMHO. I hope that you’ve been well.

  6. I am well, ee, and I hope the same for you.
    I see I am not getting through to you on the connection between race and this particular incident. (Wow! Some things never change.)
    So let me say that “White people do it too” is not a sufficient explanation. There are particular circumstances here that I thought Dr. Akbar did a very credible job of illuminating and not running away from. If you deny that race played a part, then you are blinding yourself to the psychology of it and can never fix it. That said, there is no difference between this and the Kappa Alpha fraternity, which is notorious. Race plays an equal part in their actions too. A friend of mine (white) was once beaten senseless because he just happened to pass by their frat house while they were having a party. It was because he was “other”–not a member of their redneck gang. And newsflash–black people do this too. If you deny that, well…I repeat myself.
    But you act as if no one who isn’t black can really understand the deal, at least you bring it up when it’s convenient. Apparently, it isn’t convenient in this instance.
    I hate that a young man of any color was killed in the prime of his life, and for what? It just hurts me to the bone that he was buried in his FAMU uniform. FAMU killed him. If I had been a member of his family, I would have fought that to my last breath.

  7. I am going to search for his editorial and get back to you.

  8. Hazing in the marching band in high school was physically and psychologically abusive. And you’re right, I’m not the sort of person to put up with that – which would have made me even more of a target. The problem there was that the revered band director ENCOURAGED it. There was a mini-scandal when one of the girls had a depilatory cream rubbed into her scalp the year I would have been in the hazed cohort but he was not even reprimanded.

    They won every marching band competition within reach for years. No one was messing with that guy. It makes me savagely angry even now. He was a sacred cow and a despicable human being.

  9. Well while you’re at it, read the first editorial I mentioned, by John Michael Lee, Jr. He is the director for the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center (whatever that is–it sounds impressive anyway), but the paper says he has a PhD from New York University and his undergraduate degree is from FAMU. And they provide his email address, so I assume there is some legitimacy there.
    The subtitle of his article says “Hazing will end only when students reject these cultural rituals”. And that of course is the problem. As students, we are very sneaky.
    The point I’m trying to make is that race not playing a part is a terrible misjudgement. White people cannot go in and say to an HBC, you are doing this wrong. Black people have to police themselves, and by every measure I can think of, you are doing a terrible job of it. Because, as Dr. Akbar says, when you have power, you still don’t know what it means. If you think that’s a racist statement, what can I say. This reminds me of an incident in Paris…I’ll blog about it.

  10. I read Dobson’s editorial in the Democrat where he is quoting Dr. Akbar and I think that he is way off base. Blacks are not a monolith and to categorize them as such is a disservice.

    There are people in every social group that will abuse power, To say that one group doesn’t understand power and therefore, will abuse said power, makes no sense when the groups that supposedly understand power engage in the same behavior.

    How do you come to the conclusion that black people are doing a terrible job of policing themselves? This incident is isolated to FAMU’s band and no other segment of the population!

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