A petition to oust a Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School teacher who was involved with a counter-protest against a white supremacist group in Sacramento has gathered more than 500 signatures.
The middle school teacher’s involvement at the protest prompted threats of violence against students at King.
Yvette Felarca — the middle school teacher and a member of the group By Any Means Necessary, which says it’s “building a new civil rights movement” — was filmed in Sacramento on June 26 taunting and hitting a neo-Nazi attending a rally led by the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white nationalist extremist group. The violent altercation made headlines across the U.S. after seven people were stabbed and 10 hospitalized during the pandemonium.
Robert Jacobsen, a former student at King Middle School, launched a petition drive on Change.org after learning about Felarca’s involvement in the Sacramento altercation. The petition demands that the Berkeley Unified School District fire Felarca. It argues that citizens of the U.S., regardless of their political views have the right to free speech. Felarca’s interference with those rights are grounds for dismissal, according to the petition.
“Felarca is a 7th- and 8th-grade Humanities teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley,” reads the petition. “Among her responsibilities is teaching the students under her tutelage about the Bill of Rights. Someone who does not believe in free speech should not teach kids about their constitutional rights.”
“Felarca’s activity would get a student expelled at best, or jailed at worst. And yet she’s meant to be a role model for students. She has repeatedly advocated the use of militant, violent tactics to shut down opponents of her personal political pack, By Any Means Necessary (BAMN).”
Jacobsen told Berkeleyside via email that he had nothing against Felarca personally, and that she never taught classes while he attended King. Jacobsen said he filed the petition because he doesn’t believe that it’s fair that a “militant agitator like Felarca mold impressionable students,” and that a teacher who “manipulates teenagers into joining their group should teach teens.”
Berkeleyside has not uncovered evidence that Felarca conveys her political views in the classroom.
A video posted to YouTube depicts a woman matching Felarca’s description confronting a demonstrator, yelling in his face, “Get the fuck off our streets,” punching him several times in the stomach, and pulling his backpack. Moments later another protester pulls him to the ground. Thus far, no charges have been filed against Felarca, according to the Sacramento DA’s office.
Referring to both the Sacramento prosecutor’s office and the school district, Jacobsen called the response from the government thus far “lackluster,” and added that if there was ever a reason to fire a teacher, “assaulting a man for exercising his right to free speech” should be grounds to do so.
Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Donald Evans told Berkeleyside via email that Felarca is still employed but declined to go into further detail.
“Because this involves an employee, everything is confidential,” wrote Evans.
Jacobsen said the school district isn’t planning to oust Felarca because “they can’t discipline anyone for what they do in their private life.”
The California Highway Patrol is conducting an investigation into the violence at the protest but did not return several phone messages requesting comment. Typically, law enforcement does not comment on ongoing investigations.
In the aftermath of the protests, King Middle School was flooded with anonymous emails demanding Felarca be fired. One of the emails threatened “that if certain actions were not taken against the teacher within the week, someone would come to King with the intent to harm students,” according to the school district.
The FBI determined the email threat was “low level,” but Berkeley police stepped up patrols around the school and assigned an additional officer to patrol the campus at 1781 Rose St. The school district relocated two programs that were running at King over the summer, said Evans.
The controversy and threats of violence, as well as Felarca’s involvement, have frustrated some parents with children at King.
“I don’t want to blame the teacher — but I also wonder about her judgment,” one parent told Berkeleyside. Referring to the white supremacist group in Sacramento, the parent continued: “She’s dealing with a group known to hate minorities and with a history of violence. She may be putting children in danger. I support free speech, but as a parent, I’m upset that she’s getting involved with crazy people.”
Felarca did not respond to email messages and phone calls seeking comment. However, in a Facebook post, Felarca thanked her supporters and said she held the presumptive Republican nominee for president Donald Trump responsible for the threats. “His politics of racist demagoguery and hate is inciting these vile threats of violence, even against children,” she wrote. “It exposes why Trump and his racist, Nazi, and KKK supporters need to be defeated — and it shows us what Donald Trump’s vision for America really is, and why we need to keep building the movement.”
Activism is nothing new to Felarca. She has, in the past, taken an active role in teachers’ union politics and continues to be politically active with BAMN.
BAMN was formed in 1995 and has been embroiled in controversy over its militant stances ever since. For example, in a 2015 action, BAMN won a victory of sorts as its members mobilized in support of a UC Berkeley student who was allegedly raped. As part of the campaign, BAMN printed more than 100 posters bearing a photo of the young man accused by another student and the word “Rapist” in large bold type. BAMN also held rallies and ultimately the young man was suspended from the university until 2019.
Prosecutors declined to file charges after determining there was insufficient evidence to prove rape beyond a reasonable doubt.
In Dec. 2014, BAMN was involved with the five-day-long series of Black Lives Matter street protests in the East Bay. Felarca told Berkeleyside at the time that we “can’t have business as usual.” She told the New York Times that ‘militant’ actions were justified and “riots are the voice of the unheard.”
The group’s involvement in the university sexual assault allegations, the protests in Berkeley, and the Sacramento rally are typical of how BAMN operates: using headline-grabbing tactics to drive its point home, often bordering on seeking vigilante justice.
In 2001 the East Bay Express called BAMN “wild-eyed sectarian extremists” that was (or is) “allegedly a front group for the obscure Detroit-based Trotskyist political party called the Revolutionary Workers League.”
In 1998, BAMN allegedly stole 7,000 issues of the Daily Californian because it didn’t like the paper’s critical coverage of the group or articles exploring affirmative action and Proposition 209, which was to appear on the November ballot, according to a New York Times story. A column by reporter Joe Eskenazi slammed the organization and was titled, “BAMN Be Gone.”
To hear BAMN’s critics tell it, the group uses questionable tactics and indoctrinates its members. Jacobsen pointed to an open letter from a former BAMN member posted to Facebook as evidence that the group was a cult. “They recruit impressionable young people, isolate them from their family and friends, and indoctrinate them with their violent ideology,” he wrote in an email. “That’s practically ‘Cult 101.’”
“It looks like the very same people doing the very same things,” said Eskenazi, the former Daily Cal reporter who wrote the 1998 op-ed critical of BAMN.
BAMN did not respond to phone calls requesting comment.
Anonymous email threats sent after Sacramento rally linked to teacher (06.26.16)
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