'Shop Talk': Does Hazing Consent Matter?

The Barbershop guys weigh in on revelations about the death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion. Some police documents suggest Champion agreed to undergo hazing that allegedly took his life. The guys also dish on their top picks for the NBA playoffs.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barber Shop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance journalist Jimi Izrael. He happens to be in Washington this week. It's good to see you.

JIMI IZRAEL: Good to see you, Michel.

MARTIN: Also in Washington, D.C., civil rights attorney and author, Arsalan Iftikhar, NPR digital news correspondent, Corey Dade, and with us from Austin, Texas, Mario Loyola. He is a columnist for the National Review magazine and director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a conservative think tank that focuses on the impact of federal policy on states.

Take it away, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

COREY DADE, BYLINE: Capasa.

MARIO LOYOLA: Jimi.

IZRAEL: Super Mario, what's up, man? C. Dade, good to see you.

DADE: Thank you, sir.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, I hate to get things started off on a somber note. Sadly, we do. Let's start talking about new revelations in the death of Robert Champion. You remember, he's the Florida A&M University drum major who died in November, allegedly after an intense beating by fellow band mates during a hazing ritual. Thirteen band members have been charged in Champion's death.

According to a new released police document, some suspects and witnesses suggest that Champion agreed to undergo the hazing that took his life. Michel, really?

MARTIN: You know, it's interesting because we've got a lot of detail, so we have more information, but I don't know that we have more clarity - because one band member has told investigators that Champion didn't want to go through the hazing, but was willing to do it. He volunteered to do it, albeit reluctantly, because he thought that, to become the head drum major, he needed to do this.

Robert's mother, Paula Champion, said in a news conference, she does not believe that. Here's a statement from the family's lawyer, Christopher Chestnut.

CHRISTOPHER CHESTNUT: Whether he voluntarily got it or not, what we do know is that anyone in that band who wanted any leadership position, or wanted any future in the band, had their back up against the wall if they went against hazing.

IZRAEL: Wow.

MARTIN: I'm sorry. Robert's mother is Pamela Champion. I'm not sure why I said Paula, but it's Pamela Champion. So, Jimi, what do you think?

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Well, I mean, as many of you know in the Barber Shop, you know, I'm a Mason and we've had our hazing rituals, but we haven't had any - of course, we have our hazing rituals. Nothing I can talk about. But we haven't had any deaths since 77 year old Albert Eid mistakenly shot 47 year old William James back in 2005; and there was also a specialist, Donald Wilder - his death overseas in 2006. And, personally, I've experienced some hazing, but obviously, I mean, nothing to this extent. It's a shame and, of course, our condolences go out to the Champion family.

C. Dade, Corey, you went to HBCU. Is this a HBCU thing?

DADE: Absolutely.

IZRAEL: Is it?

DADE: Yeah. Hazing takes place in marching bands. Marching bands are huge. They are big business for the universities. But to me, what's interesting is, as pervasive as hazing is in marching bands, many of the band directors have been criticized for not being aggressive in stopping it. But what's interesting is, in the FAMU case, you have a band director who actually suspended students for hazing and the university reinstated those students, so the band director felt undermined. So that, to me, is an issue that really stands out in this case.

MARTIN: Why do you think that is? I mean, what is it? Is it because there's such a draw that they don't want to do anything that apparently - that would change the culture, even when it's lethal? I just don't understand that. Why would you...

DADE: Marching bands are big business for HBCUs. They - you know, there's a saying at HBCUs that the fans pay to see the band and, once the halftime show is done, they leave the game. And so, when you think about FAMU's band, Grambling State's band - where I went to school - these bands are nationally and sometimes world renowned. They travel the country. They play in Super Bowls. They play in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parades.

Some of them - you know, the Grambling State Band was in a Coca Cola commercial in the '70s. So this is big money for the university. They offer four year scholarships to band players - to band members. So, you know, they have been historically reluctant to address this kind of problem because they're messing with their cash cow.

IZRAEL: Mm. Arsalan Iftikhar.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Well, I think that, you know, in addition to what Corey said, I think it's not only isolated to HBCUs. I think that fraternities and sororities around the country have hazing issues, particularly fraternities, you know, dealing with alcohol poisoning deaths that have come from hazing rituals and, I mean, I've heard of some pretty outlandish hazing incidents.

But what's interesting to me, as a lawyer, is the fact that the 11 defendants that you mentioned were charged with third-degree felony hazing as opposed to second-degree murder or manslaughter charges. And it's interesting, because, under Florida statute, second-degree murder is perpetrated when there's a, quote, "depraved mind," and Florida manslaughter requires, quote, "culpable negligence."

And what the defendants are essentially saying is, because Mr. Champion consented to go on the bus - albeit, nobody will ever consent to dying - you know, because of that consent, that that should be considered a mitigating factor. And I think that that's probably one of the reasonings that the prosecutor used in charging the third-degree felony hazing.

MARTIN: Well, I think - isn't the culture a part of it, too? I mean, because depraved mind seems to - would imply outside of the continuum of accepted behavior. And if you grow up in an environment, or if you are present in an environment where that is considered acceptable, even if it is disreputable, then how can you have a depraved mind if that's - well, that's what is done here?

IFTIKHAR: That's a good point.

MARTIN: You know what I - I mean, I just...

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: I don't know. Mario, what do you think?

LOYOLA: Well, I kind of don't know how you get from hazing to killing someone. I mean, so what Arsalan - the point Arsalan brings up - I mean, I can consent to hazing, but there's no way that I can consent to my own murder. And so I just don't know how these beatings could've gotten so severe that the people who did them didn't realize that they were creating a grave likelihood of serious bodily injury or death.

IZRAEL: Hmm.

MARTIN: That is a question I have. I mean, but it just - some of it is, you know, this throwing people - throwing a blanket over people, for example...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: ...so they're deprived of air, it could be the number of people hitting -obviously, the force of the blows. I mean, 13 people hitting one guy seems to me - and also, it would be where a person was hit. I mean, if you can - you know, there have been a number of incidents involving student athletes in the Washington, D.C. area were clearly unintentional. There was alcohol involved, maybe one blow, and a person falls and hits their head.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: So I think it's obviously the manner of the behavior that's relevant.

IZRAEL: OK. Well, I have question. What's acceptable hazing? You know what I mean?

MARTIN: Right.

IZRAEL: Where's the line?

MARTIN: Yeah.

IZRAEL: You know, I mean, when I became a Mason, I knew what I was up - I knew that - to expect something. I didn't know exactly what to expect. I didn't know that I'd be - I'd die and be raised again. I didn't know that.

DADE: Right.

IZRAEL: But I knew something would happen.

MARTIN: Well, can I just ask you this, Jimi: Why does it - what - from your first-hand perspective, why does it persist? I mean, I do think that there is some relevant stuff around, you know, impulse control of kids in that age and the fact that, you know, judgment is not fully formed until the, you know, mid-20s, and there's a lot of data around that. But you're a grown man and you're a very intelligent man.

IZRAEL: Right. Mm-hmm. Well...

MARTIN: Why do people continue participate in something that can be...

IZRAEL: Well, let me say by the time I was ready to make my Masonic ascent, I was a grown man, and the men around me were grown men. So...

MARTIN: Yeah.

IZRAEL: So that's a little different. But I think there's this idea that an organization - or any - some organizations, that you shouldn't be able to just walk in the door and say I want to be a member, and then become a member. There's something you should have to go through, in some people's minds.

DADE: Right.

IZRAEL: You should, you know, the...

DADE: You have to pay a price.

IZRAEL: You've got to pay a price.

DADE: Right.

IZRAEL: You know, so it shouldn't just be that, you know, to get your Masonic degrees, that you're proficient in this and you're that and the other. You know, you should have to - we should have to test your mettle in some way.

DADE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Why beating, though?

IZRAEL: I didn't say a got beat.

MARTIN: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I didn't say that.

MARTIN: Well, Corey, you tell me: Why beating? You played football.

DADE: I played football, and I was hazed. Freshman get hazed. I remember a situation that was unique. They all wanted us to have bald heads, and, you know, they were going to shave you if you didn't shave yourself. They made an example out of one of our fellow freshman. The biggest freshman who would had come in, one of the sort of incoming stars, they sent a message, and they forcibly shaved his head in the middle of the dormitory...

IZRAEL: Wow.

DADE: ...floor. So we got the message. We went in our dorms and quickly shaved each other's hair real quick.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNAP)

IZRAEL: You shaved your head, bro?

DADE: Absolutely.

MARTIN: So shades of that - has that...

IZRAEL: I bet you look like a Milk Dud with your head shaved.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I mean - no. This has shades of that Mitt Romney incident.

IZRAEL: Or like a chocolate M&M.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: Right. Well, and I - I think what's been lost in this, also, is, you know, the universities involved around the country.

DADE: That's right.

IFTIKHAR: So, you know, if you are some random fraternity of Zeta Beta Potato that, you know, had, you know, where somebody dies during a hazing ritual and they get a slap on the wrist, you know, maybe one semester or, you know, off-campus probation, things like that, I think that that has led to a culture of impunity, which has grown through the years. And I think universities need to be held to account, also.

IZRAEL: Hmm.

MARTIN: Well, if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. You're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by freelance journalist Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, NPR Digital News correspondent Corey Dade - they're all in Washington, D.C. - in Austin, columnist Mario Loyola. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. All right. Well, let's move to the field of politics. We've talked a lot in the shop about the Latino vote and how important it will be in November. Now, a new poll from NBC News, Telemundo and The Wall Street Journal, shows President Obama leading presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney by 34 points with Latinos.

Now, this week, Romney spoke to a group of Latino small business owners. Michel, we got some tape, yeah?

MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah. Sure. Here's a clip, Mr. Romney speaking to the Latino Coalition on Wednesday. He's talking about improving education, particularly for minority children. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MITT ROMNEY: This can be more than our hope. It can be our future. It can begin this November in the choice you make. So I'm asking for your help. I need you guys to go out and get people across the community to tell them how important this issue is.

IZRAEL: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Thanks for that, Michel. You know, the more I hear Romney - you know, he screams to me as kind of tone deaf in all matters involving race and class. You know, he was this close to almost saying you people. You know, he said you guys, you know, and he has trouble with his potential constituents of color. At least that's the way I'm reading it.

Mario Loyola, Super Mario, now you're a conservative Latino. Weigh in here, brother.

LOYOLA: Well, I think that that poll that showed Obama over Romney, some 30 points among Latino voters, that's the basic threshold advantage that a Democrat presidential candidate has had over the Republican for a long time. The only person who was able to change that was George Bush in 2004 when he cut that advantage down to just 20 points. And a lot of people think that there was the margin of victory in 2004. And, you know, but - so I think that Romney faces a challenge. It's not an insurmountable one. On the one hand, you're right. He's not, you know, the most effective communicator to some of those minority communities. On the other hand, he's a really nice guy, and Latino voters like really nice guys, you know...

IZRAEL: OK.

LOYOLA: So I think he can make headway there.

MARTIN: Does his niceness come through?

LOYOLA: I think it does, and I think it will more and more, the more people get exposed to him, you know?

MARTIN: But how do you overcome, say, his pledge to veto the Dream Act if elected, which was the legislation which would create a path of citizenship for young people who were brought to America as children if they meet certain markers, like attend college or serve in the military. And, I mean, I don't know. How do you overcome that?

LOYOLA: Well, I mean it's like - I mean, you know, you know, this isn't to Latino voters what, say, a pro-choice position is to feminists voters. I mean, it's not like Latino voters are going to vote one way or another because of someone's position on the Dream Act.

IZRAEL: You know what? And I'm - but I'm sorry. Being a nice guy is just not enough to get you elected. Word to John Kerry. I mean, it's just not going to - he's going to need a little bit more. I'm a nice guy. Nobody's nominating me for president, you know,

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: True.

IZRAEL: A-Train?

MARTIN: Very true.

IZRAEL: A-Train, Arsalan, we all know you to be an Obama supporter. You know, has he done enough for Latinos to earn a 34-point lead, or is it just, you know, people just don't like Romney?

IFTIKHAR: Well, I think that, you know, Mario hit on the fact that is a fundamental truth these days in politics, that when it comes to the minority vote in America today, the Democratic Party has had, you know, a stronghold on that. And I think that, you know, if there's a 34-point lead today, you know, the Republicans are not going to win the Latino vote or any other minority vote with a plurality of 51 percent.

Now, if he chooses Senator Marco Rubio as his running mate, that might cut into the lead a little bit. You know, I think that at the end of the day, you know, most minorities in America realize that even though they might not be fully happy with everything that President Obama has done in their first - in his first four years, that ultimately, you know, the Democratic Party is the party that most represents their needs and concerns.

IZRAEL: Corey Dade.

DADE: Well, I think the Republican Party and Romney have no illusions about getting anywhere near even 40 percent that George W. Bush got in 2004. Their strategy is to peel off maybe about 10 to 15 percent or so of Latino support for Obama. Because the truth is, even though Obama has this huge advantage with Latinos, their support for him is soft. They are not as enthusiastic about Obama as they were four years ago. That's where they - that's where the Republicans think and the Romney campaign thinks that they have an edge. And so, if they can potentially either put Marco Rubio on the ticket or have him be a very vocal surrogate for Romney, there are polls that show that Rubio's presence - certainly on the ticket - could actually help Romney's efforts.

IZRAEL: You know what, though? In the Boston Globe today, they were talk - they asked the question whether not Romney has written off the Latino vote. And I'm inclined to think that I don't know, maybe he has. And that might be in his interest, because he can't seem to reach - he can't seem to get to where he doesn't sound so paternal and colonial when he's talking to people that are outside of his country club space. You know what I mean? Like I said...

DADE: Yeah.

IZRAEL: ...race and class seem to stymie him.

DADE: Well, I will say, I was there covering his speech at the Latino Coalition, and he didn't sound paternalistic at all. He was pretty engaged with them...

IZRAEL: OK.

DADE: ...and he was well received.

MARTIN: It'll be interesting to see whether he makes any similar outreach to African-American voters who are just so, you know, for despite the disappointments of some progressives, clearly very fond of the Obamas - not just him, but also her. So it'll be really interesting to see if there's any effort made in that direction, as well.

OK. Before we go, got to go, got to go. We have got to talk about the NBA. Exciting week. Picks. Come on. Arsalan, I - why do we even bother asking you?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: Well...

MARTIN: Green pants.

IFTIKHAR: I think today, this week the story, the news has been, you know, the potential - you know, Shaquille O'Neal becoming the next GM of the Orlando Magic. Now, we've learned, you know, recently that that's not going to happen. And I think...

DADE: Thank God.

IFTIKHAR: I think one of the reasons that Shaq Fu wanted to be the general manager was because Orlando was the team that drafted The Diesel, and Sheriff O'Neal wanted to be a mentor to Dwight Howard. But I think that Kazam will ultimately stay with TNT, with Chuck, EJ and Kenny.

MARTIN: OK. Well, your picks for - I didn't ask picks for commentator. I asked what's your pick for the - Celtics...

IZRAEL: And you didn't even give Shaq his PhD.

MARTIN: Why did I bother?

IFTIKHAR: I know.

DADE: He did.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Mario, who do you like? Who do you like?

LOYOLA: I've got to go with my roots and pick the Miami Heat. They're starting to develop a reputation that's similar to the one that University of Miami Hurricanes had, the football team during the '80s, which is just sort of enjoying the fact that everyone hates them.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Yeah. That's a good point.

MARTIN: I don't. I think I'm with the Heat, too. I think I am. I think I am, although they do have a tendency to not be able to execute at the critical moment. I don't like the word choke. But, anyway, Corey, what do you say? But I think I'm going with the Heat, too. What do you think?

DADE: I see Miami Heat and OKC in the finals.

IZRAEL: Mm.

DADE: And as long as they're in the finals, I don't care who wins.

MARTIN: I hear you.

DADE: That's going to be just ballin' out for seven games.

MARTIN: OK. I think my husband likes OKC. Jimi?

IZRAEL: The Heat. It's the shoes, baby.

MARTIN: It's the shoes?

IZRAEL: It's the shoes, baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: Well, Corey, if - we'll give you the Oklahoma City - if they win, we'll put that in your column, too, and we'll all owe you a cupcake.

DADE: That's right. KD, my homeboy.

MARTIN: OK. Mario Loyola is director of the Center for 10th Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and a columnist for the National Review, with us from member station KUT in Austin, Texas. Corey Dade is a correspondent for NPR's Digital News. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com. Jimi Izrael, freelance journalist and presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University. Jimi, Arsalan and Corey, here in D.C. Thank you so much.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

DADE: Thank you.

LOYOLA: See you, guys.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

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