Three fraternity brothers at the University of Mississippi have been suspended — and are possibly facing federal charges — for taking a photo in front of a bullet-riddled sign honoring slain civil rights icon Emmett Till while holding a shotgun and AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
“The photo is on Instagram with hundreds of ‘likes,’ and no one said a thing,” says a complaint filed with the UM Office of Student Conduct.
The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network, reviewed the complaint and obtained a copy of the picture in question, which was taken earlier this year.
Ole Miss student and Kappa Alpha Order member Ben LeClere posted it on his private page in March and is reportedly the one holding a shotgun.
Two of his fraternity brothers, John Lowe and another young man who has yet to be identified, can be seen posing alongside him — the latter of whom is toting the AR-15.
A fourth person, said to be the photographer, may have also been with the trio, the complaint says.
KA officials reportedly suspended LeClere, Lowe and the other man on Wednesday after the photo was brought to their attention by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
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“The photo is inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable. It does not represent our chapter,” said Taylor Anderson, president of Ole Miss’ Kappa Alpha Order, in an email to the center. “We have and will continue to be in communication with our national organization and the University.”
US Attorney Chad Lamar, of the Northern District of Mississippi in Oxford, was also shown the image and chose to refer it to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for further investigation.
“We will be working with them closely,” he said Thursday.
Ole Miss officials condemned the students’ actions, calling the photo “offensive and hurtful.” They claimed to have received a copy of it back in March, which they forwarded and referred to university police — who then gave it to the FBI.
University spokesman Rod Guajardo told the Center for Investigative Reporting that the FBI decided to not investigate the incident because the picture “did not pose a specific threat.”
He pointed out how while the image may be “offensive,” it’s not a violation of the Ole Miss code of conduct — since it was taken off campus and not at a university-affiliated event.
However, the school “stands ready to assist the fraternity with educational opportunities for those members and the chapter,” Guajardo said.
The Emmett Till sign that was captured in the photo has been targeted several times since being erected in 2008.
Vandals reportedly threw the first site marker into the nearby Tallahatchie River — where Till’s body was dumped after his 1955 lynching. The second was shot up repeatedly, with officials estimating that it got blasted more than 315 times before finally being removed and replaced in 2016.
The third and most recent sign, which was captured in the IG photo, had to be taken down last week after being riddled once again with bullet holes. It’s unclear if LeClere, Lowe and the other young man were responsible.
The fraternity brothers are just the latest Ole Miss students to come under fire for incidents involving civil rights icons.
A trio of Sigma Phi Epsilon members got hit with federal charges several years ago after they placed a noose around the neck of a James Meredith statue, along with a Confederate flag.
Meredith was the first known black student to attend Ole Miss.
One of the fraternity members pleaded guilty and received six months in prison for “using a threat to intimidate African American students and employees because of their race or color,” according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
All of them wound up withdrawing from the university. The school’s Sigma Phi chapter was later shuttered following an internal investigation.
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“Hazing, underage drinking, alcohol abuse and failure to comply with the university and fraternity’s codes of conduct” were the reasons given as to why the fraternity’s national headquarters was closing the chapter.