‘I Want Change to Come From This,’ Louisiana Teacher Says of Arrest
Posted January 11, 2018 7:31 p.m. EST
On a rainy afternoon in Abbeville, Louisiana, hundreds of people showed up Thursday to a rally in support of Deyshia Hargrave, a teacher whose arrest at a school board meeting ignited a national backlash.
Many of them heeded calls to wear black in support. Speakers said her experience at the meeting Monday was a clear illustration of educators struggling to make their voices heard.
Hargrave, who took the microphone to chants of “Stand by Deyshia,” said she hoped she would inspire people to show up to their local meetings, and her students to stand up for what they think is right.
“I want them to see past the handcuffs and the arrest, and I want change to come from this,” she said.
Hargrave was arrested Monday at a Vermilion Parish School Board meeting shortly after questioning the board’s decision to give a raise to Jerome Puyau, the superintendent, and renew his contract.
A video showed a city marshal, identified as Reggie Hilts, approaching her as she spoke during a portion of the meeting dedicated to public comment. He escorted her from the meeting, and moments later she was handcuffed on the floor of a hallway.
Hargrave was arrested on charges of “remaining after having been forbidden” and “resisting an officer,” according to Ike Funderburk, Abbeville’s city attorney and prosecutor. But he decided not to pursue charges, as did a lawyer for the school board, Funderburk said on Tuesday.
After the episode attracted widespread news media attention, the officer involved drew more scrutiny.
In a lawsuit filed in 2012, Hilts and another officer in Scott, Louisiana, were accused of using excessive force against a 62-year-old man by slamming his head on a concrete slab as he was arrested in 2011. The man, a hepatitis C patient with an enlarged spleen, was “in a very weakened physical condition because of chronic cirrhosis of the liver,” according to the lawsuit.
The officers denied that excessive force was used, saying the man had resisted arrest during a dispute over his lawn. The suit was settled in 2016, according to The Associated Press.
Hilts, a pastor at a local church, is married with two children, according to a biography on his church’s website.
The marshal’s office could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Hargrave teaches English to fifth- and sixth-grade students at Rene A. Rost Middle School in Vermilion Parish on the southern Louisiana coast. In a video statement Wednesday, she said she was “appalled by this, and you should be, too.”
She said she returned to school Tuesday, hours after being freed from jail, and that her students and their parents had been supportive. She was trying to turn the ordeal into a learning experience, she said.
“Please don’t let the conversation end with me,” Hargrave said. “Please go to your local school board meetings. Speak out, be vocal.”
In an interview with NBC News, Puyau, the superintendent, said that he and his family had been “bombarded” with death threats.
“Are there things that we could have done differently? I think the whole world knows we can, you see it,” he said. “However, we have to come together and say we have to follow the rules.”
Across the state, educators and politicians expressed disappointment in the scene.
“Deyshia Hargrave’s expulsion from a public meeting and subsequent arrest are unacceptable and raise serious constitutional concerns,” Jane Johnson, the interim executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said in a statement. “The Constitution prohibits the government from punishing or retaliating against people for expressing their views, and the fact that a schoolteacher was arrested at a public meeting of the school board is especially troubling.”
John Bel Edwards, the Louisiana governor, said Wednesday that the arrest was “terribly unfortunate,” according to The Times-Picayune.
“It should not have happened and it cast a negative light on our state and, you know, it’s very regrettable,” he said.
Teachers have used her experience as a rallying call.
“We are all stakeholders who not only have the right to speak up for our students, but we also have a duty to do so,” Suzanne Breaux, president of the Vermilion Association of Educators, said at the rally Thursday. “We are relevant, and we will not be silenced any longer.”