Maryland — Russell Dickerson, III, a 19-year-old African-American man filed a federal lawsuit against the Aberdeen School District Tuesday, alleging he had suffered relentless racial and anti-gay bullying while school officials did little to stop it.
Russell Dickerson, III, said students had taunted him with derogatory epithets, spit on him, threw things at him, and created a website that mocked him. Believing he was gay, a student posted in a high school locker room a doctored picture of him kissing a man, he said.
But from 2003 to 2009, while Dickerson attended the district’s junior high and high school, Aberdeen officials did little to stop the harassment, Dickerson and his parents said. The alleged lack of action came in spite of a no-contact court order to keep one of Dickerson’s harassers away from him, the complaint said.
That harasser had allegedly threatened to lynch Dickerson.
“It was like a prison sentence,” the soft-spoken teen said at a news conference in Seattle Tuesday. The conference was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which filed the complaint on his behalf in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.
“I found myself dreading school,” he said.
The complaint alleges that Dickerson and his parents had repeatedly reported the harassment to school officials, and that officials had engaged in “deliberate indifference” that violated Dickerson’s civil rights. It seeks damages to cover the costs of his counseling and continuing education.
When Dickerson enrolled at Miller Junior High, he said he had found notes from students calling him a “dog” and racial epithets. He said students tripped and pushed him, and threw food, rubber bands and spitballs at him.
One assistant principal suggested to Dickerson that he change his style of clothing to avoid further harassment, the complaint says.
Only after Dickerson’s father complained to the school board did the district do a formal investigation, according to the lawsuit. The district allegedly hired an insurance professional, who concluded that Dickerson had indeed been harassed. But recommendation emerged for changes at the school or district.
When Dickerson entered Aberdeen High School, the harassment escalated, he said. Students continued to call him derogatory racial and anti-gay names. They pinched and fondled his chest, spit on his head, taunted him about his physical appearance, and insinuated that he was gay.
“You got quite a bust going on,” they allegedly said to Dickerson. “Hey girl, I like my fish squirmy.”
In 2007, students created a website that mocked him. A student threatened on the website to lynch Dickerson, leading the Grays Harbor County Superior Court to issue a no-contact order against the student.