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Ole Miss racial incidents have many feeling uneasy

OXFORD, Mississippi (CNN) — A noose was hung around the neck of a statue of a famous civil rights figure at the University of Mississippi.

Racial slurs were hurled at a black student as she walked near the campus.

These two recent racially charged incidents have some wondering if the school affectionately called Ole Miss is still stuck in the old days.

Police and federal authorities are investigating the alleged incidents. And on Friday, the university’s police chief said his officers were looking to arrest three freshmen in connection with the placing of a noose on the statue of James Meredith.

The University of Mississippi announced Friday. February 21, 2014, that it was trying to arrest three freshman students suspected of desecrating the campus statue of civil rights icon James Meredith.

The University of Mississippi announced Friday. February 21, 2014, that it was trying to arrest three freshman students suspected of desecrating the campus statue of civil rights icon James Meredith.

University police deferred all questions to the university administration, which has said it wants arrests in the case.

A celebrity alumnus has weighed in. NFL star Michael Oher, who played for Ole Miss and was made famous after his story inspired the movie “The Blind Side,” took to Twitter on Monday to share his feelings.

“Can’t believe they are still doing stuff like that at Ole Miss,” he tweeted. “Really a shame!!”

Shay Hodge, a former Ole Miss wide receiver and teammate of Oher, had a different view.

“There are racist people at every school,” said Hodge, who is African-American. “Everyone treated me well. I always felt welcomed. I felt like family there. It happens in every campus, in every high school, in every community … because it is not just white people towards blacks, it is blacks towards whites, whites towards Mexicans…”

On Friday, the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity said it was “embarrassed” to learn the three suspects were members of its organization.

Not only would it expel the three students, the fraternity said, it was going to indefinitely suspend the whole Ole Miss chapter.

“For this to occur in 2014 is an insult to the legacy of James Meredith, The University of Mississippi community, and the SigEp alumni who fought for racial equality in the late 1950s,” the fraternity said in a statement.

Seeking arrests

“We believe the three folks we’ve identified and provided information to prosecutors about were involved” in the desecration of the statue, Lee Tyner, the general counsel for Ole Miss, told CNN in a phone interview.

The three 19-year-olds, whose identities have not been released by police, are from Georgia and are freshmen at Ole Miss, according to a prepared statement from the university chief of police, Calvin Sellers.

They are accused placing a noose around the bronze statue this week, and leaving behind a flag that included a Confederate symbol.

“Sellers said the University Police Department (UPD) had gathered enough evidence by late Wednesday to bring charges through the student judicial process against two of the students, and both state and federal authorities were working in close coordination to determine whether criminal charges were applicable,” the statement said.

The students were set to appear for questioning with university police Thursday but never showed up, according to the statement.

“No arrest warrants have so far been issued, to our knowledge,” Danny Blanton, director of public relations for Ole Miss, told CNN.

Not surprised

James Meredith became the first black student admitted to Ole Miss in 1962. And it took a Supreme Court ruling and federal police presence to ensure his admittance.

Meredith, 80, would not speak to CNN about the noose incident. But his wife said she was not surprised that it happened.

“I’m shocked but not surprised by what happened,” said Judy Meredith. “I’m surprised something didn’t happen to the statue earlier.”

In a strange twist, Meredith has not been a fan of the statue, He has said he disapproves of it on biblical grounds, and believes it should be removed from campus.

“It’s a false idol, and it’s an insult not only to God, it’s an insult to me,” he said in an interview with The New York Times about his commemorative statue.

The university’s alumni association had offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the suspects.

Racial slurs alleged

In another race-related incident, Kiesha Reeves, an African-American student who is a third-year senior at the school, reported to police that someone threw alcohol at her from a moving car while also shouting racial slurs on Monday.

On Friday, Reeves told CNN that she was still emotionally affected by what happened.

Police are investigating the incident, which occurred a few miles off campus at a residential complex that houses mostly Ole Miss students.

“It’s unclear at this time if the incident is related to the incident last Sunday on campus,” Oxford Deputy Police Chief James Owens told CNN. “This is pretty unusual. This is a college town. This doesn’t usually happen here.”

The racial episodes this week drew renewed concerns about race relations on campus.

Students who spoke with CNN affiliate WMC shared similar feelings:

“I just feel like whoever did that had to be completely ignorant to the impact that he had on this campus to deface school property and such a monumental statue like that,” sophomore Raven Lyles said.

“I think it’s absolutely terrible what they did,” freshman John Choat said. “I think they should pay for it.”

“To be honest, we haven’t come as far as we think we’ve come,” said another student, Bryston Tucker.

“Obviously there is a little bit of work left to do in terms of our social fabric,” Meredith’s son John told CNN. “My father always has said it’s not a matter of civil rights, it is a matter of citizenship.”