The arrest and suspension of a black 15-year-old high school student for fighting his white classmate who allegedly racially bullied him has caused controversy in a Massachusetts town.
Ras Russell, a 15-year-old who attends the high school and STEM academy in the town of Sandwich, Massachusetts, allegedly began to fight another student after he’d been taunted for months with insults like ‘go back to Africa’ and telling him to ‘pick cotton,’ according to The Enterprise.
The fight was reportedly filmed by a student and showed Russell kicking and punching the other student, which left him with a broken collarbone, among other injuries.
Russell was charged criminally with one count of assault with a dangerous weapon (his shoe), one count of assault and battery, and one count of larceny, according to a family attorney. The white student was also charged for assault and battery, but not for a felony crime.
Both students were initially suspended for five days, after which the white student was allowed to return, according to the Cape Cod Times.
Russell’s suspension for his actions continued through April but after his court date was delayed until May 4, Sandwich School Superintendent Paula Gould told WXTK they’re reinstating him.
Paulene Jones speaks at an April 6 Sandwich Community Schools meeting about the racial bullying her sun, 15-year-old Ras Russell, faced before beating up one of the bullies, resulting in criminal charges and a long suspension from Sandwich High School & STEM Academy
Sandwich High School and STEM Academy is in the Cape Cod region of Massachusetts
Sandwich Public School District serves about 2,500 students
Sandwich School Superintendent Paula Gould
Gould wrote a letter to the community in March admitting that a ‘horrible comment’ had been made the night before the fight while the students were playing video games online.
‘The next day, the student in question made a decision to find the student who made the comment in order to physically take matters into his own hands,’ Gould wrote.
‘Only after the fight did the administration learn of why he made the decision to fight the student, sending him to get medical care, without one punch returned,’ she added. ‘His choice, plus the severity of the injuries to the other student, made the incident a police matter.’
‘But as adults, we must reiterate to our youth that violence is not the way to handle it.’
Gould admitted that the student had faced racial bullying and that the student who made the comment before being beaten up had been disciplined.
However, Russell’s family and protesters both argued that hadn’t happened at the April 6 meeting of the Sandwich School Committee, saying that the white student had been allowed to return to school before Russell did.
Marguerite Ormon, Russell’s aunt, wanted it made clear that her nephew was the original victim here.
‘You cannot blame him and let the bully have no consequences,’ she said, according to WBZ News Radio.
‘My nephew was called on several occasions, and they have that in texts, ‘N—r.’ This child endured that, he’s a child,’ she continued. ‘He’s not mature enough to know all the full consequences of that explosion that happened after months of this type of language and this type of bullying happening.’
Margot Critchfield, a protester, also spoke on Russell’s behalf.
‘I’m not making excuses for condoning in any way the harm he did,’ Critchfield said. ‘But I am calling us to acknowledge that Ras was the first victim here.’
Russell’s mother, Paulene Jones, argued that the racism her son faced was riding the crest of a wave of racism perpetuating throughout the school district.
Jones said her entire family had faced racism in Sandwich, dating back to September 2021 when she found her garage door covered in red paint. No camera evidence was available so police were unable to locate a suspect.
‘It’s been a rising problem and it’s not going away. Nobody has addressed the students of Sandwich on how this is not going to be tolerated,’ she said.
On Facebook, several alumni of the school district echoed her thoughts, saying the problem had been brewing for a long time.
‘I grew up and lived in Sandwich almost my whole life, I also went to school in the town for years,’ wrote Amanda Hutchinson. ‘The town absolutely has a problem with racism. This story is heart breaking. There is no doubt in my mind that the victim was harassed with racial verbal abuse. The town and schools need to do much better.’
Matthew Martinez added: ‘I don’t know how many times I heard jokes about swimming to the US from Cuba or being told to go back to Mexico. I am of neither Mexican or Cuban descent.’
‘The sandwich school system sucks and does absolutely nothing when it comes to racism in this town!’ added Amanda Van Buren, who said she’s the mother of two biracial children in the school system.
Sandwich High School & STEM Academy Principal James Mulcahy
Gould wrote that Russell will be supported with a school counselor when he returns and with academic help to meet needs due to his absence. School counselors are also scheduled to follow up with students who witnessed the fight in the classroom, she added in the letter.
‘Ras is a nice kid who is very supported,’ Sandwich High School & STEM Academy Principal James Mulcahy said, according to the Enterprise. ‘The goal is to get him back in school and always has been.’
Mulcahy also admitted that the entire school district has problems and they’re taking steps to implement programs from the Anti-Defamation League to help teach students how to deal with these issues.
‘I would never deny that they feel these things,’ Mulcahy said of the experiences shared by people of color in Sandwich. ‘They’ve experienced it here and I hurt for them.’
Neither Sandwich High School & STEM Academy nor Sandwich Public Schools responded to a DailyMail.com request for comment.