A white teenager from Benton Harbor, Michigan, is facing charges of malicious use of telecommunications after he invited a black teen into a racially charged conversation in the popular social media app, Kik.
The racially-charged chat included seven students from the Upton Middle School. The private chat on the Kik app was not illegal in and of itself. However, the introduction of the eighth student, who happened to be black, changed everything. Freedom of speech within the app applied, just as it does in real life. However, the racist comments and banter between the seven white teens became more than a hate-filled conversation when a 13-year-old teen in the group invited a black teen into the mix. At that point, the conversation became an act of harassment, which made the black teen uncomfortable enough to report the conversation.
WNDU TV reported that Berrien Prosecutor Michael Sepic labeled the introduction of the black student into the conversation as being an act of “intimidation or harassment.” Only the 13-year-old teen that invited the black student into the conversation is being charged in the matter, since he subjected the black student to the comments that were made prior to his invite.
“When the one student opened it up to others, that is using it as intimidation or harassment or an annoyance and that’s all you need, that’s the crime.”
The content of the conversation has not been released. However, Sepic describes it as hurtful and inappropriate.
“First of all the language used was inappropriate and second, using the language can be very hurtful and disgusting to actually view.”
Although the conversation has not been released, WOOD TV reported that Sepic revealed the use of the “N word,” as well as threats of violence against the black community. Sepic did stress that the conversation, while private and between only the seven original participants, was completely legal and protected under the First Amendment. However, once the black teen was introduced, the threatening nature of the conversation took an entirely new turn.
Rather than ignore the case and slap the 13-year-old teen on the hand, Sepic chose to pursue the case and teach the teen a lesson about his actions, hoping the other teens would learn from it, as well.
Sepic spoke with the police and the black teen’s family, advising them of his plan. It has not been revealed if the family has agreed to the charges, or if Sepic is moving forward without their blessing.
Rather than treat the white teen in a formal manner, he will instead use it as an opportunity to teach a life lesson and force the teen into counseling after his initial court appearance. He does not want the incident to tarnish the 13-year-old teen’s permanent record, but wants to ensure the issue does not happen again.
“The message here is whether they intended to be hurtful or not, that language they used can be and should be obviously avoided,”
Sepic also reported on his decision to prosecute the minor on charges of malicious use of telecommunications.
“The decision to prosecute the one minor is based upon the premise that such conversations are repugnant to our community’s sensibilities and that minor, and young people in general, need to know such conduct is not acceptable.”
Sepic is not using the incident to force the white student to become friends with the black student, but instead teach him how his actions can lead to consequences if not thought through. He also hopes that parents will look at the case and use it as an opportunity to teach their kids how words can be just as hurtful and destructive as physical violence.
“I think the idea is that this is a time when parents can have a conversation with their kids about the moralness of conversations like that. They wont necessarily be crimes but I think parents should have the mind to set their children straight on what’s appropriate and what’s not.”
[Image via Blade Tucker/Shutterstock]