The threat of a lawsuit against the district took much of the teeth out of the censure motion that was originally proposed for Trustee Sam Fant for his involvement in bringing public Facebook photos posted by an employee.
And pressure from the local chapter of the NAACP and the involvement of the ACLU may have been contributing factors to the decision of the Manteca Unified School board on Tuesday to not accept a resolution that would have effectively censured Fant for leaving a meeting in progress to grant an interview to a Sacramento television news station.
But that didn’t prevent the fireworks from going off.
Bobby Bivens, the Executive Director of the Stockton-San Joaquin NAACP, accused some members of the audience of being affiliated with white hate groups and called into question whether punishing Fant for exercising his rights to point out when he was offended was fair and just.
“The Ku Klux Klan running around with their hoods on and some of the suit-wearing Klans in your audience also represent the hate that has come against black people,” Bivens said. “How do you hate the people that make you rich in America – that raised this country and made it into the number one country in the world? For free.
“And now you want to punish Mr. Fant because he was offended by a racist posting on Facebook? I saw the posting.”
Stockton resident and activist Ralph White was the one who presented the pictures to the board after Fant had attempted to disclose them to local media outlets, including The Bulletin, prior to the meeting. The employee, Debie McLarty, has stated that the photos were taken from her grandson’s “Dukes of Hazzard” birthday party – a show that depicted a Dodge Charger with the confederate flag on its roof – and that the photo of President Obama that was originally claimed to depict a bullet hole on his forehead actually showed a fly that had landed on him during a press conference.
“What are you going to do? She works for you. She’s on your payroll – the taxpayers’ payroll – and she’s going to be out there putting racist stuff up? She should be fired, immediately,” White said. “If anybody that was working for me would have done something like that they would have been fired. And I don’t know where in the hell an elected official has to get permission to go to the bathroom. An elected official is responsible for his or her constituents, and his or her constituents determine whether they should serve on the council.”
White continued by referencing the racist shooter who walked into a church in Charlestown, South Carolina earlier this month and killed nine people, and how pictures were released after the fact that showed him with a confederate flag.
“The only people that really follows that flag is the few racist ass Klansmen we have running around this town,” he said.
Board President Deborah Romero, who eventually had to gavel down the audience for unruly behavior, said that the issue itself wasn’t about whether Fant was offended over the pictures that she herself took issue with, but rather the fact that he left a meeting while it was in progress to grant an interview to Fox 40 News outside of the building.
When asked directly by Romero whether he knew that the news crew was coming, Fant answered “No.” He also said that he didn’t recall asking Romero for a break, which she agreed to grant after the Superintendent’s report that was in progress, but then left anyway – claiming that he was just using the restroom but was approached by the reporter and agreed to go on camera.
According to Drain, who vehemently opposed the censure, each board member has to answer to their individual constituents and once the information about McLarty’s pictures became public it would have been a disservice to their minority constituents to let the issue go unnoticed.
She also became combative with the audience who expressed displeasure with some of the things that she was saying.
“I hope that your side can respect where we’re coming from especially when you look at nationally what that Confederate flag represents,” Drain said to a chorus of moans. “And I don’t care if people don’t like it – you should do your homework. You should know your history.
“Everything that is happening in this country today – to see that Confederate flag on anybody in this district’s Facebook is, saddening, and disheartening, and it represents what my people suffered from so yeah I represent my people. So please – please – just understand the perspective. That’s all we’re asking. But if you leave the censure as it is we’re all facing legal troubles as it is written right now, and I don’t have the means to be dealing with anybody else’s legal problems with all that I have going on.”
Fant distributed copies of a letter that was written by the Northern California chapter of the ACLU that cited various cases where vague laws that were applied to individual people were deemed discriminatory and arbitrary – noting that Fant did not break any board bylaws at the time that he left the active meeting.
“At a time when communities around the country are trying to grapple with issues of race relations and to promote understanding, why is Manteca pursuing a course of action that will be polarizing and divisive?” ACLU Senior Counsel Alan L. Schlosser wrote in his open letter to the board.
Drain also said that the photos were discovered after McLarty made a comment on her then-public Facebook page, and people who clicked on her name were then able to see them.
A motion was made by Trustee Nancy Teicheira to effect the censure and was seconded by Evelyn Moore, but the two received no additional support from the other trustees.