Three Ole Miss students have been suspended from their frat house, Kappa Alpha, and are facing a possible civil rights investigation after they posed with guns in front of a memorial honoring Emmett Till.
ProPublica shared the image, which they obtained, in an investigative report about the incident.
The image shows Ben LeClere holding a shotgun, as his frat brother John Lowe squats underneath the sign. A third unidentified member is on the other side of the distinctive sign armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
The sign is located at the site where Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River. In August 1955, at only 14, Till was brutally murdered by two white men, who were later acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury. After being acquitted, the men publicly confessed to the crime.
The report was posted on July 25, Till’s birthday.
According to ProPublica it was LeClere who posted the photo on Lowe’s birthday with the caption, “one of Memphis’s finest and the worst influence I’ve ever met.”
The report notes that it is not clear if the students shot at the sign, which is shown with distinct bullet holes. However, it is not the first time that the Emmett Till sign has been vandalized since it was first erected in 2008.
The sign that the three students posed in front of is actually the third one put up at the site.
The first sign was thrown into the river by vandals. The second sign was shot up 317 times with either bullets or shotgun pellets, before officials with the Emmett Till Memorial Commission removed it. The third sign, the one in the photo, was again shot at and damaged by 10 bullet holes before officials also took it down, the report notes.
The fourth sign is expected to go up soon, better designed to deal with the horrid attacks.
After LeClere posted the photo, someone who saw it filed a bias report to the university’s Office of Student Conduct.
“The photo is on Instagram with hundreds of ‘likes,’ and no one said a thing,” the complaint read. “I cannot tell Ole Miss what to do, I just thought it should be brought to your attention.”
The complaint also argued that there may have been a fourth person involved in the photo who took the picture.
LeClere has since removed the photo, but the damage was already done.
On Wednesday, the frat suspended the three men.
“The photo is inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable. It does not represent our chapter,” Taylor Anderson, president of Ole Miss’ Kappa Alpha Order, told ProPublica in an email. “We have and will continue to be in communication with our national organization and the University.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar of the Northern District of Mississippi in Oxford, who also saw the photo, said that the incident has been referred to the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ for further investigation.
“We will be working with them closely,” he said.
On the other hand, Ole Miss spokesperson Rod Guajardo said that the school did get a copy of the photo, which was then turned over the university police department, who then turned it over to the FBI.
The FBI reportedly said it would not dig any deeper as the photo did not pose a specific threat.
And while the university acknowledged that the picture was “offensive,” it did not violate the university’s code of conduct, as it did not occur on-campus or as part of a university-affiliated event.
“We stand ready to assist the fraternity with educational opportunities for those members and the chapter,” Guajardo said.