Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
Three Ole Miss fraternity brothers were suspended by their chapter after posting an Instagram photo of themselves armed with guns in front of a memorial honoring civil rights icon Emmett Till.
The photo shows Ben LeClere, John Lowe, and a third unidentified Kappa Alpha Order member standing in front of a plaque for Till, who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 at just 14 years old, according to the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting with ProPublica. Two of the brothers were holding a shotgun and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
The photo got hundreds of likes on Instagram, but “no one said a thing,” according to a complaint filed with the University of Mississippi Office of Student Conduct.
After the photo was brought to the attention of Kappa Alpha officials, the fraternity reportedly suspended the three students Wednesday, according to ProPublica. “The photo is inappropriate, insensitive, and unacceptable. It does not represent our chapter,” wrote Taylor Anderson, president of Ole Miss’ Kappa Alpha Order, in an email.
Ole Miss officials also received a copy of the photo, which they called “offensive and hurtful,” after it was posted in March. University spokesman Rod Guajardo said that while the school denounced the picture, it didn’t violate the university’s code of conduct because it occurred off-campus.
The university police then referred the case to the FBI, but federal officials decided not to investigate because the picture wasn’t deemed a “specific threat,” according to Guajardo.
But the frat brothers’ photo isn’t the first abuse of the roadside plaque recognizing the site where Till’s corpse was extracted from the Tallahatchie River. The first sign, posted in 2008, was thrown into the river, and the second withstood hundreds of bullets, only to be hit again just 35 days after it was replaced. The armed students posed in front of the third sign before it was removed last week.
Sen. Kamala Harris tweeted Thursday honoring the legacy of Till, who was lynched after allegedly offending a white woman in her family's grocery store. But Till’s murder case, which sparked the civil rights movement, was reopened last year when his accuser admitted she hadn’t been truthful when she said Till sexually harrased her one week before he was found dead.
“Today would have been Emmett Till’s 78th birthday. Yet his life was cut short when he was just 14,” Harris wrote. “Lynching is still not considered a federal hate crime to this day. I have a bill to make it one. It's time we confronted this dark part of our nation's history and right this wrong.”
In 2014, three Sigma Phi Epsilon members were served with federal charges after placing a noose around the neck of a James Meredith statue — honoring the first known black student to attend Ole Miss — along with a Confederate flag.
Cover image: FILE - This May 4, 2005, file photo shows Emmett Till's photo on his grave marker in Alsip, Ill. (Robert A. Davis/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, File)