Racial taunting of Bloomfield Hills pupil investigated

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Bloomfield Hills — Law enforcement officials are investigating an incident in which a Bloomfield Hills student was taunted with racial slurs while riding a school bus to and from a music festival last month.

Phoenix Williams, 13, an African-American honors student who recorded part of the incident on his cellphone, is taking classes remotely because his mother feels it would be unsafe for him to return to Bloomfield Hills Middle School.

“One of the boys told another boy he’d give him some candy if he’d call my son a dirty N-word, so the boy took the candy and called my son that name while others joined in the name-calling,” said Shanari Williams, a stockbroker and financial adviser, of the incident March 13.

In a statement posted online, the school district said: “We are proud of this student for coming forward and notifying an adult. It takes courage and strength to stand up to incidents of bullying and we applaud him for taking that step.”

The district also said, “Swift disciplinary action was taken, however the details of these actions cannot be discussed due to privacy laws.”

District spokeswoman Shira Good said school officials reacted as soon as they became aware of the incident.

“As you can tell from the video Phoenix recorded, the bus was very noisy,” Good said by email. “The adults were several rows away from the students and were not aware of the incident. When staff were notified of the incident, they immediately involved police and launched a full investigation.”

Lt. Dan Edwards of the Bloomfield Township Police Department said a report was filed March 16. “It was a harassment report,” he said. “We investigated it and turned it over to the prosecutor’s office for review.”

Calls and emails to Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper’s office were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Good said the district and school staff members have reached out to the Williams family. “There are layers of support in place for Phoenix that have been discussed privately with the family and we hope to see him back in our school community very soon,” she said.

Good said the district plans a forum to “speak together about the path forward” at 6:30 p.m. April 28 at the Booth Center, 7273 Wing Lake Road.

Shanari Williams said she’s concerned the bullying will continue. “It is a hate crime because he was targeted for being a black boy,” she said.