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Ole Miss interim chancellor comments on Emmett Till photo

Three University of Mississippi students have been suspended from their fraternity and face potential federal charges following the release of a photo of them posing with guns in front of a historical marker honoring Emmett Till. The sign also had around 10 bullet marks where it had been shot.

The photo was posted by one of the students on their private Instagram account, according to Jerry Mitchell of the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, who reported the story on Thursday. It was obtained by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica. The photo was posted to Ben LeClere’s Instagram page in March, which is when officials at the University of Mississippi were made aware of its existence.

LeClere and two other Ole Miss students are posing in front of the Emmett Till historical marker, with LeClere holding a shotgun while his Kappa Alpha Order Fraternity brother, John Lowe, stands opposite LeClere holding an AR-15 automatic rifle. A third student squats below the sign.

“This image and the actions portrayed in the photo of this off-campus incident are offensive and hurtful,” Rod Guajardo, a spokesman at Ole Miss, said in a statement. “While the image is offensive, it did not present a violation of university code of conduct. It occurred off campus and was not part of a university-affiliated event.”

A report to the school’s Bias Incident Response Team was made in March;  the matter was then referred to the University Police Department. UPD officials then reported the image to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI then later informed UPD they would not investigate the matter further, as it did not pose a specific threat.

The Ole Miss chapter of Kappa Alpha Order suspended the three students on Wednesday after they received the photo via various news outlets, per Mitchell’s report.

On Friday, Ole Miss interim chancellor Larry Sparks provided a statement to the University’s students, faculty and staff, condemning the photo.

These are not things we take lightly. In light of our history, our University of Mississippi community of more than 25,000 people needs to come together to make it clear that these students and their actions do not represent the values of our institution,” Sparks’ statement read. “They do not speak for our institution, and they do not define us. What makes this different than other offensive, hurtful, and disgusting things we see on social media each day is that, at the very least, it belittles the price that a 14-year-old paid for being black.

“Race and ethnicity are not choices; they are not political affiliations, decisions, or attitudes. They are fundamental aspects of our dignity, and who we are as individuals. We are a community of scholars committed to creating an academic experience that teaches racial equity, and we unequivocally reject attitudes that do not respect the dignity of each individual.”

The historical marker honors the late Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African-American boy who was tortured and murdered in August 1955. In 2017, a Duke University professor claimed Carolyn Bryant Donham admitted to him in an interview that her allegations in 1955 that Till grabbed her and was sexually crude to her were not true. An all-white, all-male jury acquitted the two white men who were on trial for the murder of Till.

A marker was placed in Money, Miss. in 2011 as a part of the Mississippi Freedom Trail and has been repeatedly vandalized, with the most recent incident taking place in August of last year.