Three University of Mississippi students were suspended from their fraternity after posing with guns in front of a memorial to Emmett Till that was riddled with bullet holes.
A photo posted online shows a University of Mississippi student holding a shotgun next to a sign memorializing the site where Till’s body was removed from the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi, according to the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, which first reported on the image.
The student is standing next to his Kappa Alpha fraternity brother, who is holding a semi-automatic rifle, according to ProPublica. Another fraternity brother is seen squatting below the sign.
It is not clear whether the sign was already vandalized or if the men shot it. The sign has been shot multiple times before.
Till was murdered in 1955, when he was 14 years old. His death was a catalyst for the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and Thursday would have been his 78th birthday.
One of the students posted the photo online in March with the caption “one of Memphis’s finest and the worst influence I’ve ever met,” ProPublica reported.
Five days after the student shared the photo, someone filed a bias report to the university’s Office of Student Conduct.
The Kappa Alpha fraternity suspended the three men Wednesday after news organizations shared the photo with the university, according to ProPublica.
Taylor Anderson, president of the school’s Kappa Alpha Order, denounced the photo in a statement to the outlet.
“The photo is inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable. It does not represent our chapter,” Anderson said. “We have and will continue to be in communication with our national organization and the University."
U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar of the Northern District of Mississippi told the news outlet that he referred the information to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
A university spokesperson, Rod Guajardo, confirmed that the university received a copy of the photo in March, and the school’s police department turned the picture over to the FBI. The FBI did not investigate because the photo did not pose a specific threat, Guajardo said in a statement to The Hill.
Guajardo called the image "offensive," but said it was not a violation of the school's code of conduct. He said the school supports the Kappa Alpha Order in suspending the students.
"We stand ready to assist the fraternity with educational opportunities for those members and the chapter," Guajardo said. "The University of Mississippi will continue to build programs that engage our students in deliberate, honest and candid conversations while making clear that we unequivocally reject attitudes that do not respect the dignity of each individual in our community."
The Department of Justice declined to comment further.