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Judge sentences teen to lessons in race relations

Judge sentences teen to lessons in race relations
Aug. 16, 2007
After serving time for battery, boy must write about Evers, Douglass

Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce E. Schroeder lived through the Civil Rights era.

That’s why he was incensed when Archie Phillips not only dared to use a racial slur before punching a classmate at Bradford High School, but then admitted he wasn’t familiar with Medgar Evers or Frederick Douglass.

“I was just stunned,” Schroeder said. “… How sad it is that not only have we come to a point that what they tried to teach us has been forgotten by some people, but also that they have been forgotten.”

Phillips, 17, of Kenosha, was charged in January after he punched another student so hard his tooth went through his skin, said defense attorney Terry W. Rose, who represented Phillips.

The victim, also 17, saw Phillips jumping on some other students. Apparently, Phillips didn’t appreciate it when his classmate tried to intervene.

So, Phillips, an African-American, pushed him and challenged: “What are you going to do, white boy?” Rose said.

Then, Phillips punched the student in the face.

A plea deal reduced Phillips’ felony charge to two misdemeanors – battery and disorderly conduct.

After credit for time served, Phillips got 60 days in jail.

That sentence is over, but he still must serve two years probation.

He also has to write three 150-word essays – one each about the assassinated Medgar Evers, his brother and Civil Rights activist Charles Evers and Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave-turned-abolitionist.

“I asked him if he knew who Abraham Lincoln, Medgar Evers and Frederick Douglass were,” Schroeder said. “He knew who Lincoln was.”

But, Schroeder said, Phillips couldn’t place Evers or Douglass.

Schroeder, a judge known as much for his impromptu history lessons as his sometimes fire-and-brimstone sentences, said he ordered Phillips to write about the men because they tried to improve race relations.

Phillips, Schroeder said, did nothing but try to tear them down.

Rose praised Schroeder not only for the essays, but also for trying to send a message to students.

As part of Phillips’ sentence, Schroeder suggested that a sign go up at Bradford High School.

Kenosha Unified School District officials won’t allow it, but the poster would have read:

“A student at Bradford High School on June 1, 2007, was convicted of disorderly conduct for striking another student and making racially offensive remarks and was sentenced to 90 days in the Kenosha County Jail.”

Schroeder cannot order district officials to post the sign. And district Superintendent R. Scott Pierce said in a letter that, according to district rules, they don’t have to.

Schroeder said he wished the district had made another choice.

“I feel it is a very important message that needs to be conveyed that someone who does this must pay a price,” he said. “… You cannot tolerate this kind of incident.”

Rose, who also serves as the Kenosha County Board chairman, said he was especially unhappy that the sign was banned, largely because Phillips’ case wasn’t the only problem this past school year at Bradford.

Police were called numerous times because of fights at or near the school. One incident prompted a rumor about a school shooting, which led some panicked parents to yank their kids out of class one day last spring.

“I think the judge was attempting to let students know that this type of fighting in school will be dealt with harshly,” Rose said. “… I think it would have helped.”

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