Growing up African-American in the harbor town of Aberdeen, young Russell Dickerson III was just a "nigger" to some of his classmates. Miller Junior High students tripped him in the hallway for being black. They knocked him about and smashed an egg on his head. It got worse when he reached Aberdeen High School - spit upon, hit with flying objects, and eventually threatened with a lynching. But now he has gotten a bit even.
Seattle Weekly first wrote about Dickerson in 2005 when he was still in junior high, where he reported being hit with rocks and raw eggs and was stabbed in the back with a pencil. His story was part of a report on a black Hoquiam family that was also fighting racism in the schools and community, including one son being chased home by two kids with an ax and a knife, calling out, "You fuckin' nigger."
The Grays Harbor towns had no particularly notorious history of discrimination but they had always been and remain predominately white communities, inexperienced in dealing with racial conflict when it did indeed arise. Police were slow to react and school officials in particular seemed unprepared to handle acts of racism, according to the few black families in the area.
In Dickerson's case, says Seattle ACLU spokesperson Doug Honig, the youth was "subjected to a continuing barrage of viciously derogatory insults about his race, physical appearance, and suspected [homosexual] sexual orientation" throughout his school days.
In his lawsuit, Dickerson said classmates called him names like "nappy ho" and "faggot," and set up a phony MySpace page in his name to mock him. At times they wrote "nigger" on his locker and furtively taped the word to his back. In a 2010 press conference, he recalled that he endured racism starting "when I walked through the doors my first day of middle school. It was like a prison sentence that carried on into high school."
The school district, in a statement back then, said it "adamantly denies that the District has allowed any student, including Russell, to be harassed without prompt corrective action being taken."
Dickerson and his parents in fact repeatedly reported incidents of harassment to district administrators, both verbally and in writing, says Honig. Yet the district failed to take adequate steps to end the harassment.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, claimed the school district's "indifference" to ongoing harassment violated Dickerson's civil rights and state discrimination law. He endured the racial acts for more than five years, the ACLU says.
"I learned from my parents that you should never give up," Dickerson said in a statement yesterday. "You should fight for your rights - you don't just walk away."