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Grand Traverse County will not charge students in racist 'slave trade' groupchat

Dan Wanschura
Interlochen Public Radio

Traverse City Area Public Schools students who participated in a racist social media group chat will not face criminal charges.

Local authorities began investigating the Snapchat group titled “slave trade” in late April, where some high school students in Traverse City pretended to place bids on people of color, including their classmates.

On Wednesday, Grand Traverse County prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg announced the end of her investigation. She found that the offending students didn’t violate any laws.

“Honestly, I've been doing this for over 20 years, and it was shocking stuff for me to read, but, I'm not going to go outside of what I can do as far as the law goes,” Moeggenberg says.

According to the prosecutor, because the teens did not want anyone else to see the chat, their speech is protected by the first amendment.

“It’s certainly speech we don't approve of…but it's protected speech in a private group,” Moeggenberg says. “Any of the criminal statutes, they have to show intent to cause fear, to make someone feel threatened, intimidated, things like that. And it just wasn't there.”

The group consisted of 5 students from Traverse City, and one from out of state.

The prosecutor’s office is referring the local students to a juvenile justice diversion program for counseling and empathy training.