Last month, a teacher at El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, Calif., was captured on video telling his history class that members of the military are “the lowest of our low,” and insulting troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We “have a bunch of dumbs–––s over there,” Gregory Salcido told his students. “Think about the people who you know who are over there. Your freaking stupid Uncle Louie or whatever. They’re dumbs–––s. They’re not like high-level thinkers, they’re not academic people, they’re not intellectual people. They’re the lowest of our low.”
What reportedly set him off was seeing a 17-year-old student wearing a U.S. Marine Corps sweatshirt. The video went viral and suddenly, the city of about 60,000 people in southeastern Los Angeles County, made the national news and gained a new footnote in its Wikipedia entry.
Since then, the student who took the video has been honored by the local American Legion Post. The town, where Salcido also serves as a council member, has been bombarded with angry missives, many demanding his resignation. He was put on leave by the school board. White House Chief of Staff and former Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commenting on a radio show, said he thought Salcido “ought to go to hell.” Since making the comments, Salcido said he and his family have received numerous threats of violence.
On Tuesday night, Salcido, who is also a member of the Pico Rivera City Council, sat for an hour as an overflow crowd of veterans, former students and others berated him at a council meeting, calling for his resignation, denouncing him as a disgrace to the town.
“Mr. Salcido,” one young woman said, “I’m sure you remember me. You had me as a student in 2011. Last week I called you a coward in the school board meeting. And I’m going to tell you to your face. You’re a disgrace to the city.”
“America: Love it or leave it,” said Army Veteran Raul Rodriguez, 76, who was wearing a camouflage outfit, according to the Tribune of San Luis Obispo.
“A classroom is a place of learning, not propaganda,” said Dennis Jackson, 67, the Tribune reported.
And then Salcido, who had sat silently through the meeting, tried to explain himself.
“The last two and a half weeks have been … indescribable for me and my family,” he said. “We’ve been inundated with death threats. People have told me they’re going to rape my wife, they’re going to kill me.”
While offering to apologize if he had offended anyone, he stood by his words and tried to say what he really meant.
Salcido said he was a pacifist, “with a capital P.” He remembers, he said, looking at pictures of relatives who had gone to war on his great-grandmother’s wall and wondering “for what.” But he said no one could answer his question.
More to the point, Salcido asked the angry crowd to hear his real “goal” in telling the students that the military was the “lowest of our low.”
“My goal as it relates to my students is to get them to do everything to get through college,” he said. “It’s not just the military. I wouldn’t want them to work at a fast-food restaurant, either.
He added: “I’m talking about their academic standing. I don’t think it’s at all a revelation to anybody that those who aren’t stellar students usually find the military a better option. That’s as plain as that it’s Tuesday night.”
His point, he said, “was to get my students to focus and challenge them, challenge them to reach their academic potential.”
While declining to apologize for his words, he did say he was sorry if he had hurt anyone, for that was not his intent.
Neither the crowd, which periodically heckled him as he spoke, nor the other members of the council, were buying it. The council passed a resolution censuring Salcido, calling on him to resign and removing him from council committee posts.
“God bless America,” shouted another councilman as the motion passed.
Salcido gave no hint that he would resign. His fate, said a fellow council member pointedly, will be in the hands of the voters.
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