Screenshot: WATE 6 (YouTube)
On what would’ve been the 78th birthday of Emmett Till came some disturbing news: three University of Mississippi students are being investigated by the Department of Justice after a picture surfaced of them posing with guns next to a memorial honoring Till’s death.
ProPublica reports that the students, each of whom is white, have been suspended by their fraternity as a result of their actions.
One of the students posted a photo to his private Instagram account in March showing the trio in front of a roadside plaque commemorating the site where Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River. The 14-year-old black youth was tortured and murdered in August 1955. An all-white, all-male jury acquitted two white men accused of the slaying.
The photo, which was obtained by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, shows an Ole Miss student named Ben LeClere holding a shotgun while standing in front of the bullet-pocked sign. His Kappa Alpha fraternity brother, John Lowe, squats below the sign. A third fraternity member stands on the other side with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. The photo appears to have been taken at night, the scene illuminated by lights from a vehicle.
Last year, The Root reported that the sign, which was erected in 2013 by the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, had been vandalized multiple times—twice courtesy of bullet holes.
Wounds That Never Heal: Emmett Till Sign Hit With Bullets Just a Month After Being Replaced
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It is unclear if these students shot up the memorial themselves or were merely posing next to it.
Within days of the photo being published, an anonymous complaint was filed to the university’s Office of Student Conduct, leading to the eventual removal of the photo after ProPublica and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting attempted to touch base with fraternity members.
“The photo is on Instagram with hundreds of ‘likes,’ and no one said a thing,” the complaint said. “I cannot tell Ole Miss what to do, I just thought it should be brought to your attention.”
In deciding to suspend the offending parties, Kappa Alpha has seemingly distanced itself from this type of abhorrent behavior.
“The photo is inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable,” Ole Miss’ Kappa Alpha Order president Taylor Anderson told ProPublica via email. “It does not represent our chapter. We have and will continue to be in communication with our national organization and the University.”
But not so fast.
The fraternity, which celebrates Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as its “spiritual founder,” has an extensive collection of racist skeletons in its own closets throughout its various chapters.
It provided the blueprint for what would eventually become the Klu Klux Klan.There are various accounts of Kappa Alpha clinging to its “it’s heritage, not hate” mantra in order to both intimidate and terrorize black students.There’s the time frat members were suspended for “shouting racist remarks at visiting black athletes and displaying a Confederate battle flag.”There’s the time they were suspended after throwing a Halloween party and attendees were photographed in blackface. There’s the time they were excoriated for participating in an “Old South” parade and allegedly marching past a black sorority house while wearing Confederate uniforms. There’s the time they built a sandbag wall around their frat house, complete with the slogan “Make America Great Again.”
And there’s also this personal account from our own Senior Writer Michael Harriot:
Of additional note, university spokesman Rod Guajardo admitted that the photo is offensive, but “did not present a violation of the university’s code of conduct” since it “occurred off-campus and was not part of a university-affiliated event.”
He also reiterated the university’s desire to foster “deliberate, honest and candid conversations while making clear that we unequivocally reject attitudes that do not respect the dignity of each individual in our community.”
This is definitely not how Emmett Till’s birthday—July 25—should be commemorated, but with this being America, I can’t say I’m surprised.