Three fraternity brothers at the University of Mississippi have been referred to investigators at the Justice Department for posing with guns in front of a bullet-riddled sign erected in memory of Emmett Till. The 14-year-old Till was tortured and murdered in 1955 by a group of white men, who were acquitted by an all-white male jury. The sign, which has been repeatedly vandalized, stands near the site at the Tallahatchie River where Till’s body was found.
Despite a complaint to the university, a photo of the three white male students holding guns remained posted to one of their private Instagram accounts until reporters began contacting fraternity members. The three have since been suspended from their fraternity house, Kappa Alpha.
The photo was uploaded on March 1 and eventually received at least 274 likes. Five days later, according to the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, with ProPublica, someone who saw it filed a complaint. A spokesman for Ole Miss said an official had referred the photo to the police department, then to the FBI, which told the school it would do nothing further because the image “did not pose a specific threat.”
The photo was removed by the student who posted it, Ben LeClere, when the news organizations who reported the story began getting in touch with his fellow fraternity brothers and friends. When it was shown to administrators at the university (who had already reportedly received the complaint), LeClere and the other members who appear in the photo were suspended by Kappa Alpha. The identity of the person who took the photo remains unknown, as does the person who shot the sign.
Kappa Alpha Order, or KA, a fraternity that considers Confederate general Robert E. Lee as its “spiritual founder,” has a long history of racist incidents involving its brothers. It faced backlash in 2002 when students appeared in blackface at a Halloween party the frat had sponsored at the University of Virginia. In 2009, members of a chapter at the University of Alabama wore Confederate uniforms during an “Old South” parade that passed in front of a historically black sorority that was hosting an event to celebrate its anniversary. In 2016, at Tulane, members constructed a wall of sandbags around their house that were spray-painted with references to Donald Trump’s border wall.
Prominent alums of the fraternity include Charlie Rose and many U.S. senators and congressmen, according to Wikipedia.
U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar of the Northern District of Mississippi in Oxford told ProPublica the photo has been referred to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, where it will be investigated.
But Ole Miss said that, while “offensive,” the photo “did not present a violation of the university’s code of conduct.” A spokesman said the school stands “ready to assist the fraternity with educational opportunities for those members and the chapter.”
This article mistakenly identified the actor Mark Wahlberg as a former member of Kappa Alpha and has been corrected.