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Nupe Attack: The inside story of how a few Kappa men let down their national and abused their pledges

Story and link:

Moderator: The article is a cautionary tale of not only how Marcus Jones was abused but how a cultlike chapter can cause its members–who themselves had been abused–to shame their national fraternity and to destroy the reputation of fraternities worldwide.

Fraternizing with the Enemy
St. Petersburg Times
September 2, 2007

FRATERNIZING WITH THE ENEMY

RODNEY THRASH, Times Staff Writer

DECATUR, Ga. — Pledge Marcus Jones thought the fraternity members were his
friends. He was mistaken.

Marcus Jones has never talked about what happened in the abandoned warehouse.

Over four nights in late February 2006, he and 25 other fraternity pledges
at Florida A&M University blindfolded themselves with sanitary pads and
stockings as members slapped, punched and whipped them with wooden canes
thick as bats.

Marcus, then 19, became the face of a landmark Florida hazing case that
brought the conviction and imprisonment of two fraternity brothers, a
university-imposed suspension of three others who pleaded no contest to a
misdemeanor and, now, a civil suit against them and the national, regional
and local chapters of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.

The FAMU case played out before a national audience, the first test of the
state’s new antihazing law. Court TV carried the trial. Fox News
interviewed Jones’ father. Some black Greeks labeled Marcus a snitch. But
all along, it was his dad who did the talking.

For the last year and a half, accounts of those four nights came from
Marcus’ father, Web sites, reams of police reports and court documents.
Now, the face of that historic case has a voice. He wants to let people
know why he felt he couldn’t back out.

“Once you get so far into it, they’ll badmouth you, talk about you, spread
rumors about you throughout the campus. It’s a point of no return.”

– – –

Marcus entered FAMU in the fall of 2004. He and his father wandered the
sprawling campus, lost. They came across two impeccably dressed men who
they would later learn were Torey Alston, president of the school’s Kappa
chapter, and Jason Harris. They answered “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” Mark
Jones, Marcus’ father, was impressed. He asked them to look after Marcus.

Alston and Harris did. They invited Marcus to the frat house and
Kappa-sponsored parties. They gave him rides to Wal-Mart. They joined him
for lunch.

The organization seemed to produce leaders. The first black mayor of a
major U.S. city was a Kappa. So was the first black billionaire and founder
of Black Entertainment Television. On FAMU’s campus, Kappas were president
of the student senate, the pharmaceutical society and other high-profile
organizations.

Marcus didn’t have to look far for examples of great Kappas. His dad, an
Army master sergeant, was one. If his dad was part of this, Marcus figured
fraternal life must be a good thing.

By the end of his freshman year, Marcus decided he wanted to be a Nupe, as
Kappas are called. He had no idea the price of membership would be so high.

“We were all friends,” he said. “I thought that’s what a fraternity was
about: treating each other like brothers.”

– – –

In the African-American tradition, Greek life is premium. It extends more
than white fraternities and sororities beyond the college years. Membership
in one of the nine black Greek-letter organizations means instant access to
a network of 1.5-million.

Sometimes, membership exacts a brutal cost. Though the groups officially
banned hazing after the 1989 death of an Atlanta college student, the
policy is hard to enforce. Even with additional layers of accountability –
alums of the organizations, usually graduate advisers, are supposed to be
present for all membership intake proceedings – hazing permeates Greek life.

Members sign waivers saying they won’t haze but do it anyway. Prospects
sign agreements saying they’ll report hazing and yet they willingly subject
themselves to physical abuse and other forms of humiliation and keep it secret.

“You have insecure 18- to 21-year-olds who are trying to prove their
manhood, how tough they are,” said Lawrence C. Ross Jr., author of The
Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities
and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first black fraternity.

For Marcus, the tests began at the end of his freshman year, months before
he stepped foot in the abandoned warehouse.

“Members of the fraternity started approaching me saying, ‘This is what you
need to do.’ “

– – –

They demanded loyalty and gifts. Marcus spent $1,500 in four months. One
member, whose job it was to clean a local car dealership, collected his
paycheck even as Marcus and other pledges did the man’s work for him.
Another asked Marcus for the shoes off his feet. Marcus refused. Fraternity
brothers cursed and scolded him.

Marcus called Alston, the chapter president.

“What am I supposed to do?” Marcus asked.

“We all went through it,” Alston said. “It’s just a process.”

– – –

Pledging didn’t officially start until Feb. 26, 2006, but the beatings
began Feb. 23 at a Kappa’s house. All 26 pledges wore the same uniform:
white T-shirts, blue jeans and black hoodies. They couldn’t look at any
Kappas and were required to keep their heads down.

Inside the house, the dean of pledges, a 6-foot tall, 245-pound man the
group all recognized as Michael Morton, told them to stand. One by one, he
slapped them and ordered them to sit.

“Now,” Morton said, “you all are my sons.”

Marcus thought Morton’s pop was a scare tactic, that it wouldn’t happen again.

But during the first and second nights, the Kappas snatched Marcus by his
T-shirt, slapped him until his eye was black and whispered in his ear:

“Are you gonna tell your dad?”

“Your dad better not find out!”

“If your dad finds out, we’ll find you and we’ll kill you!”

They ordered him to “get in the cut,” which meant bend over, protect the
testicles and prepare to get whipped. Kappas struck him four to six times
each. They paddled him again, along with the rest of the pledges. Canes
broke and were taped together to make even thicker ones.

On the third and fourth nights, they wound up at the warehouse. The
beatings continued.

Before the paddling began on the fourth night, the Kappas inspected the
pledges’ injuries and marked an X on the side that was bruised most. Marcus
didn’t get any X’s marked on his back even though he had some of the most
severe injuries.

“That’s probably the worst pain I’ve ever felt,” he said. “Like a whole
bunch of needles poking you in the butt.”

– – –

Marcus has difficulty explaining why he submitted himself to the beatings.
As a pledge, he said, you’re not yourself. In a sense, you’re brainwashed.

“They kept feeding us that same story: ‘It’s nothing. Nobody’s trying to
hurt you. This is how you get into the fraternity.’ “

Marcus said he felt there was no turning back. He’d paid his $2,100
membership fee and wanted a return on his investment. And the Kappas
threatened the pledges. If one person quit, they would dismiss the pledges
and keep their money.

“You’re talking about thousands of dollars just because of you. What are
you supposed to do? I had friends on that line.”

Throughout the pledge process, Marcus leaned on his dad for advice. Mark
Jones heard hesitancy and pain in his son’s voice, which concerned him.
Unbeknownst to Marcus, his father called the regional director in charge of
Kappa chapters in Florida. The graduate adviser to FAMU’s Kappas called an
emergency meeting with the pledges on March 2. An attorney was present.
Each pledge was given a questionnaire:

Have you ever been hazed as a KAY fraternity member?

The pledges, Marcus included, checked “NO.”

Still, the regional director deactivated FAMU’s Kappa chapter on March 3,
pending an investigation. (Later that month, the chapter was suspended
until 2013.) It was the last day of classes before spring break.

Marcus couldn’t wait to get home.

– – –

His buttocks hurt so much that he stacked sweatshirts and pillows in the
driver’s seat of his Infiniti I30. The whole trip, he sped.

When he got home, he walked past his mom without speaking and collapsed on
his bed. Carolyn Jones called her husband. Mark Jones looked in the
driver’s seat of Marcus’ car and saw blood. He went to Marcus’ bedroom. He
told him to drop his pants. Marcus’ backside looked like something out of a
cartoon. “Like an alien growing out of him,” Mark Jones said. “The buttocks
was so swollen I didn’t even pay attention to his legs or his eyes.”

His parents rushed him to the emergency room. The doctor took one look at
Marcus’ injuries and asked: “What kind of animals would do this?”

Mark Jones picked up the phone. Somebody had to pay.

– – –

Monday, students started a new school year at FAMU. The friends Marcus has
left are talking about graduation in the spring and the rest of their lives.

Marcus can’t relate. Except for the trials, he hasn’t returned to
Tallahassee or, for that matter, any college campus.

His injuries forced him to withdraw from FAMU and forfeit his academic
scholarship. Even if he had been well, Marcus said he couldn’t have
returned to school. He’s afraid. The network of Kappas is vast – 200,000
members with 700 undergraduate and alumni chapters, in every state, the
United Kingdom, Germany, Korea, Japan, the West Indies and South Africa.

In many ways, Marcus, the man, has reverted to Marcus, the boy. The man had
a job at Parisian department store, an apartment, his own money, a vibrant
social life and dreams of working for the Environmental Protection Agency.
The boy lives at home, gets an allowance from Mom and Dad, plays with a pet
rabbit, barely leaves the house and isn’t sure what his future holds. He
sees a psychologist, who is teaching him that the friends who abandoned him
were never really his friends. He takes online courses through the
University of South Florida. He just received enough credits to become a
college junior.

On Aug. 21, Marcus filed a civil lawsuit against the national, regional and
local Kappa chapters as well as the five men – Morton, 24, of Lauderdale
Lakes; Harris, 26, of Jacksonville; Brian Bowman, 24, of Oakland, Calif.;
Cory Gray, 23, of Montgomery, Ala.; and Marcus Hughes, 22, of Fort
Lauderdale – who he said hazed him. “I haven’t heard an apology from none
of them,” Marcus said. “I just want the truth to come out.”

Chuck Hobbs, a Tallahassee lawyer who represented four of the five frat
brothers in the criminal trial, said should the civil case go to trial, he
would lay the blame squarely at Marcus’ feet.

“He willingly submitted to going to these clandestine meetings in what we
now know was him being struck over the course of four nights,” said Hobbs,
a Kappa. “He’s going to have to answer to, ‘If you knew that you were not
supposed to go and if you signed documents promising not to go, why did you
go?’ “

Baloney, said Ross, the fraternity and sorority expert. “The great majority
of the responsibility lies on those of us who have been given the gift of
being members of our organizations and therefore, have pledged by raising
our hand, that we’re going to follow the rules and bylaws of the organization.”

On Saturday, Marcus turns 21. He’s not sure how – or if – he’ll celebrate.
“Watch,” he said, “that’ll be the night something happens.”

Tucked in a corner of the family’s living room, face down, was a painting
Marcus hoped to give his dad. In the picture, a young man looks in the
mirror, his father’s image in the reflection. He holds his hand in the
shape of a backward 6, the Kappa hand sign. The little boy wears a
crimson-colored T-shirt that reads: KAPPA.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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