/Ole Miss students pose with guns in front of Emmett Till sign, could face civil rights investigation

Ole Miss students pose with guns in front of Emmett Till sign, could face civil rights investigation

Nonprofit Mississippi News Three University of Mississippi Students were suspended from their fraternity houses and could be investigated by the Department of Justice. They were seen posing with guns next to a bullet-damaged sign in honor of Emmett Till, a civil rights icon who was killed. In March, one of the students uploaded a photo to his Instagram account showing him and the three of them standing in front of a plaque at the roadside commemorating the spot where Till’s body was found from the Tallahatchie River. In August 1955, the 14-year-old black boy was tortured and killed. Two white men were acquitted by an all-white and all-male jury. The Mississippi Center for Investigative reporting and ProPublica obtained the photo. It shows Ben LeClere, an Ole Miss student, holding a shotgun as he stands in front of the sign. John Lowe, his Kappa Alpha fraternity brother stands below the sign. On the opposite side, a third member of his fraternity stands with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. The scene appears to have been taken at dark, with lights coming from a vehicle. LeClere posted Lowe’s photo on March 1, with the message, “one of Memphis’s finest and most influential people I’ve ever known.” Lowe did not respond to multiple attempts to reach him. It is unclear if the sign was made by fraternity students or if they simply posed before it. This sign was created as a memorial to a Mississippi civil right group. It has been vandalized several times, most recently in August 2018. The modern civil rights movement in America was sparked by Till’s passing. A person who saw the photo was able to file a bias report to University’s Office of Student Conduct five days after LeClere posted it. The complaint suggested that there might have been another person who took the photo. The complaint stated that the photo was on Instagram and had hundreds of “likes” and that no one has said anything. A copy of the complaint was also reviewed by ProPublica and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting. “I can’t tell Ole Miss what I should do, but I thought it was worth bringing to your attention.” After the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting began to contact fraternity members and their friends, LeClere removed the photo from LeClere’s Instagram account. It had been liked 274 times. After news organizations sent a copy to Ole Miss fraternity officials, Kappa Alpha suspended all three of them. On its website, the fraternity honors Confederate General Robert E. Lee as its spiritual founder. However, it has a history of controversy regarding racial issues, such as a 2002 incident where students dressed in blackface at a Kappa Alpha-sponsored Halloween party at Virginia. The photo is insensitive, inappropriate and unacceptable. It does not reflect our chapter,” Taylor Anderson (president of Ole Miss’ Kappa Alpha Order) wrote in an email. “We have and will remain in communication with our national organisation and the University,” Taylor Anderson, president of Ole Miss’ Kappa Alpha Order, wrote in an email. U.S. attorney Chad Lamar of Mississippi’s Northern District in Oxford stated that the information had been sent to the Justice Department Civil Rights Division for further investigation. He said that he would be working closely with them. Officials at the university called the image “offensive” and “hurtful.” Rod Guajardo, a spokesperson for the university, acknowledged that Ole Miss officials had seen the Instagram photo in March. The university reported the matter to its police department. They then gave it to FBI. Guajardo stated that the FBI informed police that it would not continue investigating the incident as the photo didn’t pose any threat. Guajardo stated that the university found the photo offensive, but it did not violate the university’s code. He noted the incident depicted in the photo occurred off campus and was not part of a university-affiliated event. Guajardo stated that the university is ready to help the fraternity by providing educational opportunities for its members and chapter. Guajardo stated that the university would continue to develop programs that engage students in “deliberately honest and candid conversations” while emphasizing that the university rejects any attitudes that don’t respect the dignity or worth of each person in the community. Vandals dumped the first sign into the river. The Emmett Till Memorial Commission officials took down the second sign after it was hit with 317 shotgun pellets or bullets. In the Instagram photo, you can see that the third sign was hit with 10 bullet holes. Officials took it down last Wednesday. Soon, a fourth sign will be installed, which is designed to withstand more attacks. The news of the suspensions of Till’s sign and its referral to the Justice Department was announced as Till’s cousin, Deborah Watts (co-founder of Emmett Till Legacy Foundation), was already planning a moment in silence Thursday to remember her cousin. A group of friends and supporters dressed in black and/or white would be present in “a silent but powerful protest against racism hatred violence.” He would have been 78 if he had lived. This isn’t the first incident in which Ole Miss fraternity members have been involved in an incident involving an iconic from the civil rights movement. Three Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity students tied a noose around James Meredith’s neck in 2014. This was the first time that a black student had ever attended Ole Miss. They also placed the Confederate battle emblem on a Georgia flag of past. Federal prosecutors claim that the freshmen students devised the plan at a house party, during which one student disparaged African Americans and said this would cause a sensation: “It is James Meredith.” One student pleaded guilty to using threats of force to intimidate African American employees and students because of their race or colour. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment. Another student pleaded guilty. After cooperating with the FBI, he was sentenced to probation and community service. The FBI didn’t charge a third man. The third man was not charged. Jerry Mitchell is an investigative journalist for the Mississippi Center for Investigation Reporting. This non-profit news organization seeks to hold government officials accountable and empower citizens in their local communities.