Birmingham moves on from racist graffiti

Former student to serve probation, community service

By: Sue Teggart | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 19, 2011

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BIRMINGHAM — The story of former a Birmingham Seaholm High School student whose bathroom graffiti shook the community has come to a close.

Courtney Thomas, 19, was sentenced Oct. 5 in Oakland County Circuit Court in front of Judge James Alexander, and will serve one year’s probation and perform 100 hours of community service.

Thomas will complete his community service under the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Thurgood Marshall Social Justice Advocacy Project under the direction of attorney Melvin Butch-Hollowell.

Thomas, who admitted last April to writing racist statements on a boys bathroom wall, was originally charged with ethnic intimidation, but pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after taking a plea deal with prosecutors.

Elbert Hatchett, Thomas’ attorney, said a fair sentence was delivered.

“I think the justice system worked and Judge Alexander, the prosecutor and the probation department did a commendable job,” said Hatchett. “They sentenced this defendant in a manner that was consistent with a clear view of the entirety of the situation (as) opposed to his isolated misconduct.”

Prosecuting Attorney Jessica Cooper said that as the case developed, an incomplete story existed. An investigation revealed that Thomas might have been provoked by a racially offensive image that had been circulated at the school.

“As the case went on, and our assistant prosecutor became aware of the case, we became aware of the fact that there was something that caused Mr. Thomas to do this,” Cooper said. “We wanted to know what was the entire story. There was a completed and full investigation.”

When it was all said and done, Hatchett said, Thomas was treated fairly.

“They took into consideration the provocation that was involved and saw to it that the judge had a clear view of the whole circumstance,” said Hatchett. “The prosecutor became proactive when it came to seeing to it that the other party that was involved was brought before the bar of justice so that there would be equal justice for both these people.”

Leading up to the sentencing, Thomas pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace in exchange for dropping the charge of ethnic intimidation. Thomas also was ordered to get mental health counseling at that time.

“His sentence was reduced when we understood and got the full picture,” Cooper said. “When we discovered the impetus, we saw the justice required. When we discovered what made (Thomas) go off, we thought that fairness would dictate.”

Though the incident created a stir in the community, Birmingham Public Schools spokeswoman Marcia Wilkinson said the district has moved forward.

Wilkinson said that the district is increasing its work with students on character education and diversity awareness.

“We follow a template of 11 different principles of character education, and that includes respect and kindness, accountability, honesty and integrity. Those are just some of the characteristics, and we continue to emphasize those in our schools,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said the district is expanding and improving character education by offering programs to students that model good character and teach tolerance for others.

“Our efforts are in diversity awareness and appreciation in the schools, and also staff development,” Wilkinson said. “We’re offering workshops for staff quarterly. Our last one was about race and culture in the suburbs. We’re also offering after-school conversations about different aspects of diversity. Our first one of the year was held in September, and it was about the Muslim culture and Islamic religion.”

Students who are interested in attending the diversity conversations can contact Wilkinson at mw01bps@birmingham.k12.mi.us.

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