Juvenile charges sought in area students’ racially motivated chats

Published 5:45 pm Monday, December 21, 2015

The Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office said Monday it is pursuing charges against a white Benton Harbor teenager for allegedly using social media to intimidate or harass a black student.

The teenager’s name is being withheld because he is a juvenile.

The prosecutor’s office said the alleged offense occurred when a group of seven white male students from Upton Middle School began making racial comments during after-school hours using a private chat group on Kik, a smartphone messaging application.

The prosecutor’s office said the First Amendment protects the students’ speech. However, the prosecutor’s office alleges that one of the students — a 13-year-old Benton Harbor boy — involved a black student in the Kik conversation, knowing he would be subjected to the previous “loathsome and despicable” racial conversation.

The prosecutor said that individual is being petitioned into family court on the charge of malicious use of a telecommunications system — a six-month misdemeanor which prohibits the use of electronic communications to intimidate or harass another person.

The Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office said it would seek informal treatment of him in the juvenile court system, which, if accepted, will result in no recorded disposition.

“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,” the press release stated.