On Wednesday, officials announced they have charged the teen’s classmate with a hate crime, accusing the white student of taking the photo at school on Nov. 14 and later sharing the racist ad, according to a news release from the Naperville Police Department and the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office. The teen, identified by local media as a 14-year-old freshman at Naperville Central High School, faces two counts of committing a hate crime and one count of disorderly conduct.
“The allegations against the juvenile in this case are beyond disturbing,” DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert B. Berlin said in the release. “Hate crimes have no place in our society and will not be tolerated in DuPage County. Anyone, regardless of age, accused of such disgraceful actions will be charged accordingly.”
Images of the listing, which has since been removed from Craigslist, sparked widespread outrage in recent days, reopening wounds for the community that is still recovering after a separate racist episode at a local Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in October made national headlines.
“The narrative surrounding Naperville recently is NOT reflective of who we are as a community,” Mayor Steve Chirico said in a statement shared to Facebook on Wednesday. “I want us to be known and applauded for being the caring, inclusive, and welcoming community I see firsthand every day, not as a place where hate lives.”
Chirico continued: “Naperville needs to showcase our leadership in speaking out against racism and make it known that our legacy is one of diversity, inclusion and civility — not hate.”
It is not clear what motivated the teenager to post the Craigslist ad. Prosecutors alleged Wednesday in juvenile court that the two boys were sitting at the same lunch table last week when the white student snapped the picture of his classmate, who is also a 14-year-old freshman at the same high school, the Chicago Tribune reported. Harry Smith, the teen’s defense attorney, described the pair as friends, according to the Tribune. Smith could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
But the black student’s mother is disputing that characterization.
“They used to be friends, they are not anymore,” she told WGN. The mother said the friendship soured after the white student started teasing her son, “calling him dumb, making fun of his skin color, saying ‘Shut up slave’ last October."
The black teenager didn’t even know the Craigslist ad had been posted, the mother told the Naperville Sun.
“He was the butt of jokes for days,” she said, noting that her son was heckled at school, with other students telling him, “I’ll buy you for a dollar.”
Meanwhile, school officials said they took “swift and appropriate action” after becoming aware of the post, according WBBM.
In an email to parents Sunday, Principal Bill Wiesbrook stressed that school administrators “worked as quickly as possible to investigate and address this with the students involved,” the Sun reported. Wiesbrook added: “The sentiment displayed is not reflective of NCHS. We hold our students accountable for their behavior, which includes appropriate disciplinary consequences.”
The mother said the school district told her that the white student had been given a two-day suspension, and she criticized the punishment for being too lenient, according to the Sun. She said she was grateful that police also learned about the Craigslist ad.
On Tuesday, the police department announced that it had launched a hate crime investigation. It didn’t take long, authorities said, for the probe to lead them to the 14-year-old.
“Every single person deserves the right to feel safe and welcome in our community, and this department will continue to strive to make that a reality by thoroughly investigating any allegations of hate crimes and bringing those found responsible to justice,” Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall said in the Wednesday release, condemning the post as “despicable and extremely offensive.”
Chirico praised officials for how they handled the situation.
“These types of acts happen throughout the country, many times going unreported,” the mayor wrote on Facebook. “As a well-respected City, the spotlight shines brighter on us — and when it does, we demonstrate how to respond by addressing it head-on, openly, and honestly.”
Last month, Naperville was rocked by news that a mostly African American group of parents and children had been repeatedly ordered by staff at a Buffalo Wild Wings to leave their table because another customer didn’t “want black people sitting near him,” The Washington Post’s Teo Armus reported. The incident prompted national outcry and resulted in multiple restaurant employees getting fired.
In an interview with WGN, Marshall said the restaurant debacle and the recent Craigslist post are isolated events. Naperville’s residents engage constantly with one another on a daily basis, the police chief said, describing the interactions as “respectful and dignified.”
Still, the teen’s alleged actions have prompted renewed concerns among residents and local leaders, WGN reported.
“I was upset about it. I was angry,” Naperville City Council member Benny White told the news station. “A lot of people in the community were.”
The 14-year-old appeared in juvenile court Wednesday with his parents, and a judge ordered him to avoid contact with the black student outside of school, the Tribune reported.
“It wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to stay as far away as possible while you’re at school,” the judge said.
His next court appearance is scheduled for December.