In February 2014, a number of students at the University of Mississippi allegedly conspired to use threats of force and violence against black students and faculty. One of the students, Graeme Phillip Harris, tied a noose around the statue of James Meredith, the first black student to attend the university.
Meredith first attended Ole Miss in 1962, pushing past white, often violent segregationist mobs, escorted by armed federal agents. His statue was raised in 2006.
Harris was indicted by a federal grand jury, and his actions were threatening enough to draw comments from people like Attorney General Eric Holder.
“This shameful and ignorant act is an insult to all Americans and a violation of our most strongly held values. 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.”
Specifically, Harris has been indicted for conspiracy to violate civil rights and using threats of force and intimidation. Harris turned himself in on Friday to be arrested, and is currently free on bond.
The indictment comes after the state said it could not file charges. According to Fox News, because hanging the noose on the statue did not actually cause any damage, no state vandalism laws were technically broken.
James Meredith himself expressed his disappointment in the fact that the only way justice could be served is if federal authorities got involved.
“What it is saying is that the only possible justice for a black in the state of Mississippi is the federal government and if there’s anything that we don’t need it’s that being our only means of expecting justice. I think Mississippi is better than that. If it’s not better than that, it should be made better than that.”
Though no state charges were filed, Harris and two other students involved were immediately expelled from the university. Ole Miss’ Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter, which the students were a part of, was completely disbanded. The chapter was just one of many on campuses across the country that received negative attention for racism.
The university’s police chief, Calvin Sellers, said that this type of behavior was not going to be tolerated — especially not at a school with a history of racial tension.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time and we had to get our federal friends to help us to find a suitable charge. We are noted for race relations problems at Ole Miss, but that’s the past and this was really out of character at the university now and everyone is respected. But if you make threats or expressions of hate, you are not going to be tolerated.”
After the noose incident in 2014, hundreds of students came together for a “racial reconciliation rally,” a comforting move in response to what was intended to instill fear.
[Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images]