A federal grand jury indicted a student at the University of Mississippi on two separate civil rights charges on Friday for hanging a noose and a flag depicting a Confederate symbol around a campus statue honoring James Meredith, the first African-American student to attend the university.
Ole Miss student Graeme Phillip Harris was indicted on one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights and one count of using a threat of force to intimidate black students because of their race or color, prosecutors said.
"This shameful and ignorant act is an insult to all Americans and a violation of our most strongly-held values," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "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."
Prosecutors said Harris conspired with other students and draped the racially offensive items around the statue on the morning of Feb. 16, 2014. The Mississippi NAACP described the act as a "racial hate crime."
The FBI and the University of Mississippi Police Department are currently investigating the case, which is being prosecuted by the DOJ’s civil rights division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi.
Meredith enrolled in the university in 1962, but not without battling heavy opposition from students, faculty and the Mississippi governor. Protests ensued, prompting federal authorities to send more than 3,000 soldiers and 500 U.S. marshals to quell the riots. More than 200 people were left injured.
"I chose as my target the University of Mississippi, which in 1960 was the holiest temple of white supremacy in America, next to the U.S. Capitol and the White House, both of which were under the control of segregationists and their collaborators," Meredith wrote in his 2012 book, A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America.
"I reasoned that if I could enter the University of Mississippi as its first known black student, I would fracture the system of state-enforced white supremacy in Mississippi. It would drive a stake into the heart of the beast.”