Federal civil rights charges have been brought against a former student of the University of Mississippi, accused of draping a noose and a flag with Confederate markings last year on a statue commemorating the start of racial integration on campus in the 1960s.
The US Department of Justice announced on Friday that the ex-student, Graeme Phillip Harris, has been indicted on civil rights charges.
A federal grand jury indicted Harris, from Alpharetta, Georgia, on one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights and one count of using a threat of force to intimidate African American students at the university because of their race or color.
“He turned himself in this morning in Oxford, Mississippi, to be arrested. I wish this incident never happened but I’m glad that someone is being held responsible,” Calvin Sellers, the chief of the University of Mississippi police department, said on Friday.
During the early hours of 16 February 2014, a small group of white students hung a noose on a statue on campus of James Meredith, the university’s first African American student, who was admitted in 1962 amid violent unrest.
They also draped an old version of the Georgia state flag that incorporated the Confederate flag. No images have surfaced of the adorned statue, but Sellers said others on campus had witnessed the students’ efforts.
Meredith is still alive and, at 81, told the Associated Press that it was a shame Mississippi had to rely on federal authorities to prosecute the case.
The charges were brought jointly on Friday by the Department of Justice civil rights division, the FBI in Oxford, Mississippi, and the US attorney’s office for the northern district of the state.
“This shameful and ignorant act is an insult to all Americans and a violation of our most strongly held values,” said the attorney general, Eric Holder.
“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,” he added. The DoJ pointed out that the investigation is still under way.
Sellers said: “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 [the university’s common nickname], 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.”
Harris is free on bond but has travel restrictions, according to WTVA .
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