Updated Oct 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Chaos hits LA City Council following audio of racist comments

Protestors at the Los Angeles City Council meeting in the Council Chamber at Los Angeles City Hall

Protesters at the Los Angeles City Council meeting. Photo: Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

An angry crowd confronted the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday following the release of a racist conversation among councilmembers, as President Biden joins calls for resignations.

Why it matters: The nation's second-largest city is in the midst of a mayoral election in which rising crime, growing homelessness and the economy have dominated. A new mayor will have to tackle those issues — and heal a new fallout.

Driving the news: The White House said Tuesday that Biden believed Los Angeles councilmembers Nury Martinez and others should resign from the City Council over racist remarks heard in leaked recordings made public this week.

  • "The president is glad to see that one of the participants in that conversation has resigned, but they all should," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
  • She called the comments on the recording "unacceptable" and "appalling." Biden is scheduled to visit Los Angeles on Wednesday as part of a four-day Western swing.

Details: Protesters met with councilmembers Tuesday in their first meeting since the release of the secret recording and demanded three Latino councilmembers in the audio resign.

  • The crowd chanted "fuera" — "out" in Spanish — and "we're with the Blacks" and "shut it down."
  • Demonstrators vowed to keep protesting going until councilmembers stepped down.

Background: In a nearly year-old recording, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, then-LA City Council President Martinez made racist comments about a white councilmember's Black son.

  • In the recording, she complained that another official was "with the Blacks" in a redistricting fight and made racist remarks about Indigenous people from the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
  • Councilmembers Gil Cedillo, Kevin de León and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera were on the call and did not challenge Martinez.
  • Herrera resigned Monday, Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, head of the California Labor Federation, told KABC-TV.

Yes, but: Martinez resigned as City Council president and announced Tuesday she was taking a leave of absence from the legislative body. She remains on the council.

  • Cedillo and de León, who attended Tuesday's meeting, have apologized but have not resigned.

Of note: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso, U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and other members of the City Council have called for all three councilmembers to step down.

Meanwhile, in a new recording of the same conversation, Martinez can be heard saying the "judíos" — which means Jews in Spanish — "cut their deal with South L.A.," the Los Angeles Times reports.

Zoom out: Martinez's racist comments came during a discussion about the once-in-a-decade redistricting process of the city's 15-member City Council.

  • The Latino population in Los Angeles has exploded while the percentage of Black residents has stagnated yet Black leaders were able to keep some Black-majority seats.

State of play: "There's an anxiety on the part of the African American population is they've been pushed out of these historic neighborhoods in South L.A.," Tom Hogen-Esch, a California State University at Northridge political science professor, told Axios.

  • Hogen-Esch said the recording confirms the distrust among some Black leaders that some Latino elected officials don't understand the struggles of Black residents.

What they're saying: Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin fought back tears as he addressed the taped racist comments about his Black son at Tuesday's meeting.

  • "There are a lot of people who are now asking for forgiveness. ... First, you must resign and then ask for forgiveness," Bonin said.

What's next: The crisis is unlikely to affect the upcoming mayoral election, but if the councilmembers refuse to resign and the protests continue, tensions are expected to increase.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin.

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