On the morning of November 14, the Sacramento District Attorney dismissed the assault case filed in 2016 against Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School teacher Yvette Felarca. The case centered on an incident at a neo-Nazi rally in Sacramento in which Felarca, a founding member and organizer for the civil rights group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), was captured on video yelling at a neo-Nazi holding a broom stick sized pole and proceeding to hit him until the police intervened moments later. After pleading no-contest to the misdemeanor charges, Felarca was given 90 hours of community service. She will continue teaching at King Middle School, stating, “that’s not changing.” Considering that Felarca’s actions included a physical attack, the decision to allow her back at King Middle School led to scrutiny.
The demonstration took place in June of 2016 amidst Donald Trump’s election campaign. With respect to the neo-Nazis she witnessed at the rally, Felarca said, “They came armed with knives — with weapons — we did not know that. We were unarmed, but we came prepared to unite with our voices and our bodies.” Felarca says that the man she was accused of attacking had not been violent toward her, although he was holding a pole. Felarca asserts that minutes before, she had witnessed others using similar poles, including knives on the end of the poles. Felarca and two of her co-defendants engaged with the man by first yelling at him to leave the protest and subsequently pushing and throwing punches at him. Eventually, the police stopped the altercation and separated the parties.
Felarca’s actions are congruent with her association and involvement with the group BAMN. The group is also known as the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary. This group is widely considered militant and their tactics are controversial. Although BAMN has used violence in its pursuit of equality, the organization encompasses all forms of activism such as petitioning and peaceful protest. Felarca stresses that they do what they feel is necessary, and no more.
The immediate response to the 2016 incident was mixed. Felarca was first suspended by the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), but many of her students advocated for her. “There has been such support from the students, the students’ parents, coworkers, and members of the Berkeley community that I didn’t even know,” Felarca said. She began teaching at King Middle School again, which is her legal right unless BUSD made a successful case not to re-employ her. BUSD and Felarca received many threats, including lawsuit threats from a group of parents who were dissatisfied with her return and other anonymous violent threats.
Media coverage of Felarca also grew. Felarca was interviewed by Tucker Carlson on Fox News. The Youtube video of this interview, in which Felarca debates Carlson on the morality of a militant civil rights group responding to speech they deem abhorrent with violence, has over half a million views. Carlson specifically focused on the morality of her position in the group coexisting with her occupation as a teacher. Felarca said, “I wanted to demonstrate how we can stand up and hold our own against the right-wing Trump supporters, including Tucker Carlson. We don’t need to be afraid of them. It’s clear that when we organize and take action, we can defeat them in any arena, even their own Fox News TV show.”
After the interview, Felarca was relentlessly harassed by Carlson supporters. She said: “What I didn’t know about at the time was the ‘troll storm’ … this is a coordinated policy … it is an explicit form of intimidation, stalking, threats, and harassment.” Many of those who harassed Felarca did so with the reasoning that someone who uses violence to protect their political beliefs should not be teaching at a school.
Felarca and two of her co-defendants engaged with the man by first yelling at him to leave the protest and subsequently pushing and throwing punches at him.
In contrast, many of her students were satisfied with the atmosphere in the classroom. Alessandru Arichea, a junior in Academic Choice (AC) at Berkeley High School (BHS), was in Felarca’s class in middle school. “She was really respectful and treated every student equally,” said Arichea, “when she would share [her political views] in class it just gave me a better understanding of the topic and her side, to which some I agreed upon and some I didn’t,” he said. Arichea said that Felarca’s classroom always felt like a safe environment to him to learn and express his opinions.
Felarca will continue to teach, and BUSD has shown no signs of giving in to the threats. Although she received a court order to stay away from protests for a limited amount of time, she will continue petitioning and campaigning to remove President Trump and certain other right-wing leaders from their positions of power.