Analysis

Masses defend Louisiana teacher arrested for speaking up

Deyshia Hargrave speaking up at school board meeting.
Deyshia Hargrave speaking up at school board meeting.

People throughout the United States were shocked and outraged to see that a Louisiana middle school teacher was arrested and assaulted by a police officer after speaking out at a public school board meeting in Kaplan, Louisiana. The teacher, Deyshia Hargrave, taught English at a middle school in southern Louisiana where she won a teacher of the year award in 2016. A video of the arrest was recorded by a local television station and went viral on Facebook where the incident angered millions of people across the United States.

Hargrave was speaking out against the superintendent of schools Jerome Puyau for accepting a 30 percent raise while teachers, cafeteria workers and other school employees had gone 10 years without a permanent raise. “Superintendent, how are you going to take a raise when classes have grown from 21 to 29 students?” she asked. Hargrave spoke to the fact that Puyau was essentially taking money from the teachers’ pocketbooks when it is the educators at schools—not the bureaucrats like himself—who do the real work of educating youth.

At that moment, she was ruled out of order by the school board and was removed from the school board meeting by a police officer. She was wrestled down to the ground in the hallway outside the meeting by the officer while several witnesses watched. “What are you doing? Are you kidding me?” Hargrave cried. “Sir, hold on, I am way smaller than you!”

The arrest was posted to YouTube where it has close to three million views. School Board President Anthony Fontana inexplicably blamed Hargrave for the incident and in an act of extreme condescension called her a “poor little woman.”

The police charged Hargrave with “remaining after having been forbidden” and “resisting an officer.” Yet in a great show of the power of working class solidarity, the charges were dropped after a rally last week in support of Hargrave which attracted hundreds of supporters, many of whom wore black in solidarity. At the rally Hargrave took to the microphone to chants of “Stand by Dyeshia” where she urged people to attend local meetings and fight for what is right.

This incident was not an isolated affair. It was indicative of the alienation that exists for many teachers who work in public education who feel powerless when decisions pertaining to everyday working conditions are made without regard for how it will impact students. These decisions are made by bureaucrats who do not teach themselves and who in many cases have in fact never taught a day in their lives and are far removed from the realities of the classroom.

In public education under capitalism, as is the case with most fields of employment, those who do the real work are disregarded when it comes to making important decisions. It is a slap in the face to every worker in Louisiana’s Vermillion Parish School District that the  superintendent receives a huge raise while teachers and the school workers on the ground received nothing for a decade. It was an injustice, but a wrong that is common and familiar to educators and workers across the United States.

It is also emblematic of a troubling trend in the United States where voices of dissent are silenced. Anyone who dares to criticize society and the institutions that maintain the rule of the bosses can either be slandered or put in jail. Basic democratic rights such as free speech are under attack in this country. This incident also shows what role police play in capitalist society: Cops exist to protect the interests of the bosses and suppress the workers.

In a statement in a video posted last week Hargrave describes how students and parents have been supportive of her efforts in light of the incident—that the community she serves as well as people across the United States rallied to her defense and got the charges against her dropped. It was an inspiring act of working class unity, and if educators fight the bosses and capitalist class across district boundaries and state lines we can achieve real gains towards winning the schools that students deserve. If workers unite to fight the ultra-rich—our common oppressor—together we can win a new society.

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