Police in the outer Chicago suburb of Huntley charged a 13-year-old boy with a hate crime after they found the child had made “racial statements” and other threats over the online gaming platform of Xbox Live. The 13-year-old was targeting another student at Marlowe Middle School, and was also accused of making a general threat to the school’s student population. However, after following through on a search warrant and confiscating relevant items, police assured the community that there was no evidence that the 13-year-old had made any concrete plans to carry out those threats, which was later re-transmitted by a message from John Burkey, superintendent of Huntley School District 158. The 13-year-old was last being held at Kane County Juvenile Detention Center.
This is the latest in a series of such incidents in the school district, as a different boy was charged last month under hate crime laws after it was found he had made racially charged remarks at an Africsn-American student and posted a threatening video on social media. Superintendent Burkey, in his letter to the parents of the district, acknowledged that they have needed to deal more frequently with online bullying and threats, and assured them, “Any individual who makes a threat against a school in this District will face the absolute strictest school discipline and criminal consequences allowable by law. The intention of the threat does not matter.” This has been reflected in the increase in security at schools within the district. The local police has also found it necessary to step up in this department, emphasizing that “comments made via electronic means have consequences” and that the authorities take these kind of threats “extremely seriously”.
Online gaming platforms that allow for chat have always been a haven for people to exercise power behind anonymity, sometimes resulting in threats that go over the line. Xbox Live already has mechanisms in place so that users can report harassment, bullying or other inappropriate behavior being perpetrated over their bandwidth. However, that hasn’t exactly stopped the culture from changing significantly since gaming chat first became popular in the early 2010s. Racial harassment, particularly by way of the usage of slurs, was highlighted as still a latent issue in the gaming world earlier this year when famous YouTube gamer Felix Kjellberg, known online as PewDiePie, was caught using a racial slur during a stream, which later led to a loss in sponsorship.