A former University of Mississippi student could face up to a year in prison after pleading guilty to desecrating a civil rights statue.
Austin Reed Edenfield, 21, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour charge for placing a noose around the neck of a statue commemorating the school’s first black student.
The ex-student waived indictment before and pleaded guilty to helping others threaten force to intimidate African-American students and employees at the university. According to the Washington Post, Edenfield admitted that he knew the rope and flag would be threatening and intimidating to black students.
The statue in question is of James Meredith, an African American student who famously attended the University of Mississippi in 1962 in a cloud of racist fury, and it stands in the grounds of the affectionately termed “Ole Miss.” Edenfield took part in an incident on 14 February, 2014, during which a noose and a former state flag of Georgia, which features the inflammatory confederate flag emblem on it, were placed around the neck of the statue.
Edenfield, along with former student Graeme Phillip Harris and another freshman, were drinking in their Sigma Phil Epsilon fraternity house when they came up with the plan.
Harris and Edenfield returned at sunrise the next morning to witness the reaction to their stunt. It was then that they were caught on the student union video camera.
In June of last year, Harris pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of threatening force to intimidate African-American students in exchange for dropping a much harsher felony charge. Lawyers for Harris argued that he had shown remorse, apologized in writing to James Meredith, and didn’t deserve prison.
Lawyers said that Harris had fallen under the influence of racist traditions at the fraternity. The fraternity has since closed its chapter.
Despite the plea for leniency, Harris received a six-month jail term, followed by 12 months of supervised release. He is scheduled for release on July 1.
Both students are from Georgia, the same state as the flag used. The third student was not charged. All three students withdrew from the University.
Edenfield will be sentenced on July 21. As well as potentially facing a year in prison, Edenfield could be up for a $100,000 fine, although the government has recommended probation.
The Georgia resident declined to comment after the hearing and will remain free until sentencing.
The symbolic lynching shocked many and inspired some touching protests, including many students holding hands with the statue. Ole Miss has a complicated relationship with history and was long proud of its connection to the Civil War, when the University had to close down because all of its students enlisted. As recently as October, the decision was made to take the Mississippi flag down from the University grounds because of it contains the Confederate symbol.
Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice-chancellor for student affairs at the University of Mississippi, issued a statement.
“The responsibility taken in today’s hearing is another step in the right direction. Many members of our campus were deeply affected by this incident, and the university does not tolerate hateful behavior. Today’s outcome affirms our position and sends a clear message about what is expected in our shared community. I want to thank the police officers, FBI and legal team for their hard work on this case — we are grateful for their strong leadership.”
[P Photo/Jack Thornell]