By Talbert Toole
UM Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks released a statement to the Ole Miss faculty, staff and students Friday afternoon regarding the photo of three former Kappa Alpha Order (KA) fraternity members posing with guns in front of a bullet-riddled Emmett Till marker located in Glendora, Mississippi.
The photo was released as a part of a story published Thursday by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting. The story revealed that the photo was published to one of the fraternity member’s private Instagram accounts. The picture “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.”
The marker commemorates the location where Emmett Till was found murdered. In 1955, Emmett Till was abducted, tortured, and brutally killed at the age of 14 after being accused of offending a white woman in a grocery store.
Many alumni, faculty and students took to social media after the story circulated around local and national news sources, including Hottytoddy.com, voicing their concern regarding the image. Many tweeted at the university pleading for the three students to be expelled from the institution; however, Sparks stated in his letter to the Ole Miss family that the incident occurred off-campus and did not rise to the level of a threat, according to federal authorities.
The three former fraternity members pictured in the photo have been suspended by the KA chapter at Ole Miss. Sparks stated the university supports this action and stands ready to assist with KA with “educational opportunities” for the members pictured and the chapter as a whole.
Interim Chancellor Larry Spark’s full statement:
In the last 24 hours, national and regional media outlets have reported on an image depicting three young men holding guns in front of a bullet-riddled sign that commemorates the place in the Mississippi Delta where Emmett Till’s body was found. In 1955, Emmett Till was abducted, tortured, and brutally killed at the age of 14 after being accused of offending a white woman in a grocery store. His death was a major catalyst of the civil rights movement. Based on what the photo implies and the pleasure these men seem to take in the denigration of this commemorative sign, this image is offensive and hurtful.
The university learned of this image in March through a report to its Bias Incident Response Team and referred the matter to the University Police Department. At that time, the university did not know the identities of all three men, or that they were all affiliated with the same fraternity. UPD reported the image to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which reported back to UPD that it declined to investigate further because the photo did not pose a specific threat.
The incident occurred off campus, did not rise to the level of a threat per federal authorities, and was not part of any university-affiliated event. As a community of learning and a state institution, we have limits on the tools available to remedy this offensive behavior. Leadership of the Kappa Alpha Order, the fraternity with which these men are affiliated, has decided to suspend the students from the fraternity. We are aware that this decision is backed by its National Administrative Offices. We support this action and stand ready to assist the fraternity with educational opportunities for those members and the chapter.
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. 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.
This is a developing story. Follow hottytoddy.com for updates.
Correction: This article originally stated the bullet-ridden marker was in Money, Mississippi where another Emmett Till marker is located. . It has been corrected to reflect the location of the marker that was pictured in the photo.