The Justice Department said Friday that it had charged a student at the University of Mississippi with federal civil rights crimes for placing a noose on a statue of James Meredith, the school’s first black student, in what federal authorities said was a “flagrant” attempt to threaten black students at the school.
These charges come a little more than a year after the noose was found on the neck of the Meredith statue, which has stood at the center of the Ole Miss campus in Oxford for nearly a decade. In February 2014, the noose was found along with an older Georgia state flag (before that state adopted a new flag without the Confederate symbol), prompting an investigation by the FBI and local police.
Graeme Phillip Harris, the student who was charged, and others hung the rope and the flag “with the intent to threaten and intimidate African American students and employees at the university,” the Justice Department said.
Only Harris was identified by federal officials, who said he has been indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of conspiring to violate civil rights and another count of using a threat of force to intimidate African American students due to their race.
“This shameful and ignorant act is an insult to all Americans and a violation of our most strongly-held values,” Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said in a statement Friday. “No one should ever be made to feel threatened or intimidated because of what they look like or who they are. By taking appropriate action to hold wrongdoers accountable, the Department of Justice is sending a clear message that flagrant infringements of our historic civil rights will not go unnoticed or unpunished.”
The university said after the noose was found that they were looking for men seen near the statue shouting racial slurs, and officials said that same week that they were looking to question three white freshmen at the school.
The school’s Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter and the national organization said that the three were members of that fraternity, which expelled the three men and suspended the chapter. The national fraternity later closed the Ole Miss chapter after learning that in addition to what happened at the Meredith statue, members had committed “serious acts of hazing,” Phillip A. Cox, grand president of Sig Ep, wrote in an e-mail to members.
The FBI and the University of Mississippi Police Department continue to investigate the noose placed on the Meredith statue.