Three University of Mississippi students are suspended from their fraternity house and face possible evaluation by the Department of Justice after posing with guns in front of a bullet-riddled sign honoring slain civil rights icon Emmett Till.
One of the students posted a photo to his private Instagram account in March showing the trio facing a roadside plaque commemorating the site where Till’s body has been retrieved in the Tallahatchie River. The 14-year-old black youth was detained and murdered in August 1955.
The photo, which was obtained by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, reveals an Ole Miss student named Ben LeClere holding a shotgun while standing in the front of the bullet-pocked sign.
LeClere posted the film on Lowe’s birthday on March 1 with the message”among Memphis’s finest and also the worst influence I’ve ever met”
Neither LeClere nor Lowe responded to repeated attempts to get them.
It’s not clear whether the fraternity students shot the sign or are merely posing before it. The flag is part of a memorial effort by a Mississippi civil rights team and has been repeatedly vandalized, most recently in August 2018. Till’s passing helped propel the modern civil rights movement in America.
Five days following LeClere posted the photo, someone who watched it registered a prejudice report to the university’s Office of Student Conduct. The criticism pointed out that there might have been a fourth person present, who shot the picture.
“The photo is on Instagram with hundreds of likes,’ and no one said something,” stated the complaint, a copy of which was reviewed by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica. “I can’t tell Ole Miss what to do; I just thought it should be brought to your attention.”
The photograph was removed from LeClere’s Instagram account following the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica started calling fraternity members and friends. It’d received 274 enjoys.
Kappa Alpha suspended the trio on Wednesday after the information organizations provided a copy of the photograph to fraternity officials at Ole Miss… The fraternity, which honors Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as its”spiritual founder” on its site, includes a report on racial controversy, including an incident where students wore blackface at a Kappa Alpha sponsored Halloween party at the University of Virginia in 2002.
“The photograph is inappropriate, insensitive, and improper. It doesn’t signify our chapter,” Taylor Anderson, president of Ole Miss’ Kappa Alpha Order, wrote in an email. “We have and will continue to be in communication with our national company and the University.”
After viewing the picture, U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar of the Northern District of Mississippi in Oxford said the information had been called the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for Additional investigation.
“We’ll be working together closely,” he said Thursday.
University officials called the photograph”hurtful and offensive.”
University spokesman Rod Guajardo confessed that an Ole Miss official had obtained a copy of the Instagram picture in March. The university referred the matter to the university police department, which in turn handed it to the FBI.
Guajardo said the FBI told authorities it wouldn’t further investigate the incident since the photograph did not pose a specific threat.
Guajardo said that while the university considered that the film”offensive,” the picture did not present a breach of the university’s code of behavior. He noted the incident portrayed in the photo happened off-campus and wasn’t part of a university-affiliated occasion.
“We stand ready to help the fraternity with instructional opportunities for those members and the chapter,” Guajardo said.
He said the university would continue to construct plans to engage students in”deliberate, honest and frank discussions while creating certain that we unequivocally reject attitudes that don’t honor the dignity of each individual in our area.”
Since the very first sign was erected in 2008, it has become the object of repeated animosity.
Vandals threw the initial sign from the river. The next sign was blasted using 317 bullets or shotgun pellets until the Emmett Till Memorial Commission officials eliminated it. The next sign, featured in the Instagram photo, was ruined by ten bullet holes before officials took it down a week. A fourth signal, made to withstand attacks better, is expected to be set up soon.
News of this suspensions and referral to the Justice Department arrived as Till’s cousin, Deborah Watts, co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, was already planning a second of silence Thursday to honor her uncle with a gathering of supporters and friends dressed in black and white in”a silent yet strong protest against racism, violence and hatred.” Thursday is Till’s birthday. Had he lived, he would have been 78 years old.
This isn’t the first time Ole Miss fraternity students have been caught up in an episode involving an icon from the civil rights movement.
They also put a Georgia flag of yesteryear which comprises the Confederate battle emblem.
According to federal prosecutors, the freshmen students spanned the plan during a drinking festival in the home, where one student disparaged African Americans, stating this act would produce a feeling: “It is James Meredith. People might go mad.”
Another student also cautioned. He received probation and community service when he cooperated with the FBI. A third man was not charged.
All three students withdrew from Ole Miss, and the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity’s national headquarters shuttered its chapter on the Ole Miss campus following its investigation, blaming the closing behavior that comprised”hazing, underage drinking, alcohol abuse and failure to obey the university and fraternity’s codes of conduct.”
This article has been created in partnership with the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, which will be part of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.