On Thursday, what would’ve been the Emmett Till‘s 78th birthday, three University of Mississippi students were suspended after a photo of them posing with guns in front of a sign honoring him went viral after being posted on an Instagram account earlier this year.
According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the photo, obtained by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, shows Ole Miss students identified as Ben LeClere, along with John Lowe, and a third unidentified individual, all members of the Kappa Alpha fraternity, posing with a shotgun and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle in front of the sign, which had been damaged after vandals shot at it. The roadside plaque is in honor of the slain teenager and is located near Mississippi’s Tallahatchie River, where Till’s lifeless body was recovered.
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In March, LeClere posted the controversial picture on his private instagram account on Lowe’s birthday, along with the caption, “one of Memphis’s finest and the worst influence I’ve ever met.”
According to the Clarion Ledger, while it is unclear whether or not the men photoed in the picture are also responsible for the sign being vandalized, neither LeClere nor Lowe responded to repeated attempts to contact them.
Five days after LeClere posted the photo, an anonymous source filed a bias report to the university’s Office of Student Conduct. The photo has since been removed from LeClere’s Instagram account after the MCIR and ProPublica reached out to the fraternity, as well as LeClere’s friends.
On Wednesday, Kappa Alpha suspended the trio. The fraternity president of Ole Miss’ Kappa Alpha Order, Taylor Anderson, provided a statement via email:
“The photo is inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable. It does not represent our chapter. We have and will continue to be in communication with our national organization and the University.”
Till, 14, was tortured and murdered, before being dumped into the river. The two white men accused of the murder were swiftly acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury of their peers. Till’s untimely death would later help propel the modern civil rights movement.