Righting Riley’s rights

Junior helps cousin take stand against bullying

photo credit Jazmine Garcia
Enough is enough // Plano ISD student Riley Russell takes a stand against bullying alongside friends and family including his cousin, junior Madison Marley. Marley was one of many who posted the video on social media.

You know you saw it–the video of a young boy repeatedly getting smacked by two classmates at school. Viewers were outraged, calling for the school to take action against the bullies. Comments varied from “were those boys punished?” to “stop harassing them [the bullies]; they have learned their lesson.”  The video failed to show the outcome for the bullies or the victim, Riley Russell, junior Madison Marley’s cousin, leaving the internet wondering: What happened next?

“It hit closer to home because I’m his family,” Marley said. “I didn’t think it would happen to him.”

We are not out here trying to cause harm to anybody. It’s a peaceful protest.”

— Stacey Russell, Riley's mom

Before the video got the media’s attention, Riley was continuously bullied verbally. The video that went viral showed him getting physically abused by two classmates. After experiencing repeated bullying throughout his middle school career, the Plano ISD student took a stand against bullying alongside friends and family.

“Go out and talk about it and speak up,” Russell said. “I wasn’t the kid to normally talk about it, but it happened to me.”

Aiding Riley speak up, friends and family gathered at the old Brookshires parking lot March 21 to make posters and signs against bullying. Early the next morning, anti-bully advocates protested near Riley’s school, Murphy Middle School, as parents were dropped their children off for school.

“Everything starts at home. Don’t raise a child to be a bully,” Riley’s father, Anton Russell, said. “Raise a child to think about their community and how to conduct themselves in a society with classmates and teachers.”

The event inspired by Riley’s experience was meant to spark the attention of PISD to change school policies and rules but resulted as a call to action to victims and bystanders of bullying.

“She and I raised our boys not to fight or be bullies,” Mr. Russell said. “Be kind to your community. You never know if they may have a child or kid that has a disability and they’re making fun of that disability.”

Prior to the event, Riley’s parents contacted the Murphy Police to ask about peaceful ways to protest without interfering with property or obstructing drop off for other students. The police ensured that as long as drivers were not distracted nor students’ safety put at risk, they could peacefully protest. If problems were to arise, bully advocates could risk tickets and possible arrest.

“It’s all about creating awareness of the situation; creating the awareness so other people feel comfortable to come forward and voice their experiences and to implement change,” mom Stacey Russell said. “We are not out here trying to cause harm to anybody. It’s a peaceful protest.”

Among the protesters were Riley’s friends and family who helped spread the word on social media. Before posting on Facebook, a family friend asked permission from Riley’s mother. Sophomore Ali Trester took it to Instagram and soon after, Marley took it to Twitter, hoping for it to go viral. It did the trick, inspiring and grabbing the community’s attention.

“I wasn’t surprised because I’ve seen stuff like this before of videos of kids getting bullied and then I saw it go viral so that’s what I was hoping for because the schools aren’t doing anything about it,” Marley said. “I thought if the school saw how much attention it was getting, that it would come to their attention that they need to do something about the situation.”

The bullies were punished with in-school suspension for half a day, but the situation changed when Riley’s older brother, Austen, stood up to the bullies. The bullies were disciplined with a three-day suspension just before spring break.

“My oldest, Austen, went up to one of the bullies and told him not to bully his brother. The next day, the bullies threatened to shoot him with a gun,” Mrs. Russell said.

They were removed from Riley’s schedule a day after spring break, only after confronted by Riley’s mother. Now the students have a stay away agreement although Riley’s family wishes to have the students transferred to different schools or an alternative school.

Assault charges were filed against the bullies.

“Bullying is definitely a problem and not going away anytime soon, but there’s a lot you can do to advocate change,” Riley said. “It’s time to finish the fight without violence.”