A former University of Oklahoma fraternity member caught on video leading a racist chant said Wednesday he's deeply sorry for his role in the incident and upset and embarrassed that he failed to stop it.
The incident caused a national uproar and threw an unwelcome spotlight on fraternities — male social clubs that are a fixture at many American universities — that have recently been under fire over issues like sexual assault and race issues.
Flanked by several black Oklahoma City community leaders, including pastors and civil rights activists, Levi Pettit publicly apologized following a meeting he had with civic leaders at a Baptist Church on the city's predominantly black northeast side.
"Some have wondered why I hadn't spoken out publicly. The truth is I have had a mix of pain, shame, sorrow and fear over the consequences of my actions," said Pettit, whose voice quivered slightly as he spoke. "I did not want to apologize to the press or to the whole country until I first came to apologize to those most directly impacted."
Pettit and several other members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the university were caught on video engaging in the chant that referenced lynching and used a racial slur to describe how African-Americans would never become members.
Pettit answered a few questions from reporters but declined to say who taught him the chant or where he learned it.
"The truth is what was said in that chant is disgusting ... and after meeting with these people I've learned these words should never be repeated," Pettit said.
State Sen. Anastasia Pittman, who coordinated Wednesday's meeting after Pettit reached out to her, said she believes Pettit's apology is genuine and she has forgiven him.
"I admire his courage of reaching out to me and saying: 'I want to meet with you face to face and apologize to you directly,'" said Pittman. "I believe he is sincere."