Scales of Justice Tilt In Favor of Robert Champion Jr.
Washington, D.C. – May 2, 2012 – This afternoon, prosecutors announced that eleven individuals have been charged with hazing resulting death, a third-degree felony, in the homicide of gay drum major, Robert Champion Jr. Two others will face misdemeanor charges. Last November, Champion, 26, was found unresponsive aboard a band bus after the school's biggest game of the year. Police ruled the death a homicide from hazing. Witnesses told the parents that Champion might have been hazed more severely because of his orientation. The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), the nation’s leading Black LGBT civil rights organization, was at the forefront urging the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Community Relations Service (CRS) to launch an investigation into Champion’s death as a potential anti-gay hate crime.
“What could possibly drive someone to pummel another human being to death?” asks Sharon Lettman-Hicks, NBJC Executive Director and CEO. “It was absolutely heart-wrenching to listen to State Attorney Lawson Lamar detail the brutal beating that killed this young man.”
“There were thirty witnesses on that bus and it took six months to even tilt the scales of justice in Robert Champion Jr.’s favor,” continues Lettman-Hicks. “The sad reality is that justice drags its feet when a Black life is at stake. There’s even less outcry when it is the life of someone Black and gay. That is why we must continue to proactively advocate on behalf of Black LGBT people who are victims of violent crimes.” The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has found that violence against LGBT people is up 23 percent, with people of color as the most likely targets. Of the victims murdered in 2010, 70 percent were people of color.
In addition to launching a petition to demand justice for Champion, NBJC has partnered with the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service to host a Hate Crimes Prevention Act Forum at FAMU. The forum will include students, administration, faculty and staff, representatives from state and local LGBT advocacy organizations as well as local, state and federal law enforcement (including campus police) to provide a better understanding of the federal hate crimes law. Although this case was not ruled a federal hate crime, prevention education is needed more than ever to avoid the senseless and violent loss of another life.
“This is just the beginning,” adds Lettman-Hicks. “Law enforcement alone will not address the systematic and societal realities around violence in our community. There are minimal, if any, policies or support structures for LGBT people within the 105 HBCUs around the country.”
“These institutions develop many of our future leaders but fail to create safe and nurturing environments for all of our young people to thrive. Combined with legal protections, cultural shifts on these campuses are needed to literally save lives. Our work doesn’t end here.”
Black LGBT people are at the intersection of laws like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. That is why NBJC will be leading a discussion with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice to discuss prevention of hate crimes targeted at the LGBT population at HBCUs, and to identify opportunities to effectively address and respond to these incidents in a collaborative manner.
NBJC strives to foster honest and intentional dialogue within African American communities addressing the challenges of the Black LGBT community. Be it hazing, harassment or hate crime, justice must be served.
The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. NBJC’s mission is to eradicate racism and homophobia.
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