PONTIAC, Mich. – Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper says she was stunned when she watched video of a racist rant directed at Bloomfield Hills Middle School student Phoenix Williams.
"I can't image that that could go on in a school setting. I can't imagine that it could happen in what I consider to be a civilized society," Cooper told Local 4 Defender Hank Winchester.
Williams, an eighth-grader, captured the racial slurs by classmates on his cellphone during a school bus ride. And while the video is hard to watch, Cooper said it was a key piece of evidence that she reviewed before filing a petition in juvenile court seeking a charge of harassment against one of the boys and an ethnic intimidation charge against another.
Cooper said the intention is not to publicly punish the involved students. In fact, their identifies have been concealed. But Cooper said she hopes that the bad behavior can be corrected now before it follows them into adulthood.
"If we can explain to them that this is not behavior that is acceptable, without giving them a record, that's fine. If it gets to the point that after this they go on and it accelerates and accelerates, then they've made their own behavior. But what we want to do is stop it," Cooper said. "There's a difference between kids and being someone who is actually hurting another human being, purposefully hurting them and purposefully hurting them on the basis of race."
Cooper also said she wants parents to have conversations with their children about respect.
"What we can do in schools, and in talking to kids, what the courts can do, what the teachers can do, is nothing compared to what the families can do. The families can sit down and talk about how painful it is to call someone a name," Cooper said.
Cooper said Williams did everything right.
"He wasn't filled with hate. He was filled with, ‘How can I stop this? How can I prove this? How can we go on?'" she said. "He was a young, articulate man who wasn't going to take the bait. "
The Bloomfield Hills School District is hosting an open forum Tuesday night to discuss diversity. It will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Doyle Center.