School board member apologizes for grabbing teacher by the throat on video: 'I acted out of fear and self-defense'

Elise Solé

A school board member said she was “physically threatened” when she grabbed a teacher by the throat during a “chaotic and dangerous” strike in Oakland, Calif.

For the past week, Oakland teachers, the lowest-paid in the area, have protested to demand smaller class sizes, salary increases, and the closure of charter schools which consume district money, according to CNN. On Monday, teachers signed a contract with the Oakland Unified School District to end the strike, agreeing to a 3 percent retroactive bonus, raises for the years 2018-2019 and 2020-2021, a small class reduction, and lightened workloads for school psychologists and other specialists. Teachers returned to school on Monday.

However, on Friday, inside a protest at La Escuelita Elementary School where people shouted “Go home!”, Oakland school board member Jumoke Hinton-Hodge is seen on video grasping the neck of Markham Elementary School teacher Darnisha Wright, according to the East Bay Times. Wright’s coworker Daphne Crane filmed Hinton-Hodge smiling while holding the teacher’s neck.

Hinton-Hodge had been trying to enter the school to attend a budget meeting.

Wright did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s interview request. She told the East Bay Times, “My neck and throat hurts, and my head is pounding. I may have went to the hospital if I didn’t have a (more than) 100-page tentative agreement to read, understand and vote on within 24 hours. The vote won’t wait for me to get better.”

The teacher said she gasped to Hinton-Hodge, “You’re choking me” and that her airway was blocked. According to Bay City News, Wright did not interpret the situation as a personal attack, but said, “I was surprised her hand stayed on me for so long.”

On Saturday, Hinton-Hodge, who did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle, apologized on her private Facebook page. The statement was published by the East Bay Times.

Oakland Unified School District board member Jumoke Hinton-Hodge apologized for choking kindergarten teacher Darnisha Wright during the California teacher strike. (Screenshot: Facebook/Daph E. Crane
Oakland Unified School District board member Jumoke Hinton-Hodge apologized for choking kindergarten teacher Darnisha Wright during the California teacher strike. (Screenshot: Facebook/Daph E. Crane

“I care deeply about Oakland children, their families and the teachers that nurture them in our schools. And I value our communities long struggle for more just and fair public school systems…” wrote Hinton-Hodge.

“Yesterday, as the members of the Oakland School Board were preparing for our meeting, a large number of demonstrators engaged in a series of activities that physically threatened us as board members and me in particular,” she wrote. “They chained the doors of the board room, trapping some inside and keeping some out. I was directed by school district police to go through a specified door. When I did, the protest became chaotic and dangerous, with some protesters pushing forward, some blocking doors, and some putting hands on me. I was pushed to the ground, briefly disoriented, and tried to get back up. In doing so, I realized I was inadvertently pushing up against a teacher’s neck.”

Oakland Unified School District board member Jumoke Hinton-Hodge was filmed allegedly choking teacher Darnisha Wright in a Facebook video. She apologized saying the act was “unintentional.” (Screenshot: Facebook/Daph E. Crane)
Oakland Unified School District board member Jumoke Hinton-Hodge was filmed allegedly choking teacher Darnisha Wright in a Facebook video. She apologized saying the act was “unintentional.” (Screenshot: Facebook/Daph E. Crane)

“I would never have intentionally touched another person (or a sister) in that way,” Hinton-Hodge continued. “And I regret any harm that I might have caused her. I am deeply troubled by this and when realizing afterwards who it was, I offer my sincerest apology to Ms. Wright. I acted out of fear and self-defense, and would never seek to hurt anyone, least of all a teacher. In view of the entire incident, I remain deeply concerned about the threat to me and my colleagues as public servants. I am a deep believer and practitioner of nonviolent protest. What happened yesterday was not that. It was terrifying, unacceptable, and has no place in our civil discourse, especially on a day when we should be celebrating an agreement that will end a strike and offer our teachers something closer to what they deserve.”

“I deeply apologize to Ms. Wright and know her to be a dedicated teacher,” she wrote. “I hope she and I can find a way to restore any harm that has been done.”

Oakland Unified School District vice president Jody London told Yahoo Lifestyle, “I can share that as I approached the building Friday around 10 a.m. on crutches, I was mobbed and was lucky I was walking with someone who kept the crowd at bay.”

“You also may be aware that the meeting we were supposed to have Friday afternoon to approve the budget reductions we need to make to support the raise did not occur,” she added. “After the deal was announced the protesters started calling for folks to block the superintendent and other board members from getting into the meeting. That is what Director Hinton Hodge encountered.”

“The protesters barricaded every entrance and exit,” London told Yahoo Lifestyle. “I and about 15 staff members and our two student directors were held hostage, unable to exit the building until police escort was able to help us out through a large crowd. We had to cancel the meeting and have rescheduled for this morning. If we cannot vote, there cannot be a raise.”

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