By Victoria Lee and Karis Kim
LOS ANGELES, CA—Three weeks ago, audio files of Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo, and Kevin de León were leaked by an anonymous source containing racist statements. Since then, Martinez resigned, Cedillo lost his seat in elections, and de León has not shown up to council meetings.
In response to the councilmembers’ problematic remarks, Black Lives Matter partnered with organizations such as LAPD Spying Coalition, LA Community Action Network, LA Tenants Union, Chinatown Community for Equitable Development, Street Watch LA, and the Services Not Sweeps Coalition to protest de León’s refusal to step down.
Because de León has not attended any recent meetings, protestors have mainly targeted his staff members such as Director of Communications Pete Brown. During a demonstration on November 9, a group of protestors sat in on a city council meeting and made demands for the council to break quorum and force Brown to leave the room. Chants such as “Get this racist out” and “No resignation, no meetings” echoed throughout the room and ultimately fell on deaf ears.
When Brown ignored and even laughed at the public’s calls, protesters tried to address the rest of the city council. A representative of Black Lives Matter shouted, “Nine city councilmembers versus 1 racist. Nine city councilmembers who cant speak on behalf of the people.” Matyos Kidane, a representative of the LAPD Spying Coalition, followed up by yelling, “Nine city councilmembers complicit with one racist, that makes ten racist city councilmembers.”
Even though he was outspoken on Twitter about how “change is coming to city hall,” councilmember Mike Bonin did not speak up during the meeting in regard to de Leon’s racist remarks about his son, and he also did not make eye contact with the public attendants.
City Council President Paul Krekorian continuously called for the removal of the protestors as they began to come up to the stand in pairs. Security guards surrounded and escorted all of the protestors from the room one-by-one by threatening arrest. The Youtube recording of the meeting was edited to mute and censor the shouting from BLM representatives, and comments are currently turned off.
The councilmembers did not seem to register what the protesters were actually saying during the beginning of the meeting; the public attorney reduced BLM’s efforts to meaningless “noise,” echoing de León’s malicious comment about how protests are just “25 black people yelling.” One public commenter agreed with de León’s view of BLM protests, saying that councilmembers shouldn’t “let BLM influence [their] decision-making. BLM thinks they own all of the black people and they want to control them, and they’re mainly politicians.”
Despite the disruptions, the meeting eventually started and the council went through their entire agenda. They spoke about items ranging from climate change to stray cat suppression. After their meeting, individual callers were allowed a few minutes to speak on the items. More than 90% of the 10+ public commenters specifically talked about the racism and corruption within the city council, and the council chose not to respond to any of the comments.
An anonymous caller expressed outrage for the council’s deliberate avoidance of internal and external race-related issues and its overfunding of law enforcement: “This money should be used for the community, not as a pad for the proud boys of the LAPD and for their overtime pay… The LAPD is the most violent and murderous and brutal police force in the nation.” Another commenter agreed, saying, “250,000 dollars for propositions about cats. For cats. Why are our black communities underserved? These [councilmembers] do not represent us. They’re treating the public like kindergarteners. This is a corrupt, ignorant, childish council.” (2:01). The public city attorney Strefan Fauble chose to cut this comment off early.
In regard to the city council’s approach in dealing with the protestors and lack of response to relevant issues, another public commenter stated, “The city council is a criminally insane institution of organized crime and nothing more… In relation to the items, the city council should be disbanded and shouldnt be voting on anything, because it’s a corrupt institution.”
During the public comments, the president and the only 2 councilmembers that were physically present for this segment all appeared to be in conversation with their staff or on their phones. There was an overwhelming amount of disapproval for the council’s conduct of business and attentiveness in the public comments. One caller called out the lack of in-person attendance and said, “We need to redefine the local definition of a quorum to include present members in their seats actually giving speakers respectful attention and not distractedly scrolling through their phone and chatting and joking with colleagues on the side. You need to actually be present during the public comment if you’re going to vote on these issues.”
Although the president and city attorney had initially apologized to the room on behalf of the protestors and reminded everyone that personal opinions should be exclusively mentioned during the public comments, they repeatedly muted, interrupted, and ignored the statements made during the comment segment. One caller said, “I keep hearing you apologize for the protesters interrupting the public’s ability to speak. But what I haven’t heard is a reflection on how the actions of the council contributed to the conditions that we find ourselves in now. And Mr. Fauble, you’re a part of that because you seem to stand for yourself as an arbiter of what constitutes on-topic speech far too frequently.”
One of the last anonymous commenters repeated the goals of BLM LA and the reasons for their protests. They angrily said, “The staff of de León should be removed. None of them should be in the city council chamber, and every single one of them should quit… You as a city council can’t talk about discrimination when you have it actively in city council… The people in the room, the protestors as you call them, are demonstrating more fortitude, courage, and understanding of the gravity of the still unaddressed issue of the leaked audios, and are demonstrating what we already knew, that the city hall is racist and corrupt.”
Joseph Williams, a core team member of BLM LA and the director of Students Deserve, explained how they have strived to end police violence against Blacks and cease the violence of housing security and homelessness that disproportionately impacts Blacks. He stated, “Ultimately, we want to create a world and a city where Black lives matter.”
Even though comments and protests may seem futile due to the council’s disregard, advocacy is still the most direct and effective option available to the public. These actions enable the messages and emotions of the public to be heard and processed by the councilmembers, since there are no other accessible platforms for resistance.
Black Lives Matter holds weekly actions at 4pm every Wednesday, as well as protests every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9:30am at the city hall. To find out more information, contact BLM LA or subscribe to the newsletter on their website.