Oct 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

L.A. City Council crisis exposes Black-Latino divisions — and unity

Latino protesters at the Los Angeles City Council demand some councilmembers resign.

Protesters at the Los Angeles City Council meeting on Tuesday. Photo: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Latino council members who used racist language in a leaked recording have exposed the conflicts — but also the solidarity — between Black and Latino residents.

Why it matters: As the country, especially major cities, becomes more diverse, how Latinos and Black Americans work together today may define the nation's future around civil rights and equality.

Driving the news: Los Angeles councilmember Nury Martinez resigned from office yesterday following pressure from a coalition of Black and Latino activists and political leaders over her racist remarks during a conversation about a redistricting battle.

  • In the recording, first reported in The Los Angeles Times, Martinez complained that another official was "with the Blacks" in a redistricting fight and made racist remarks about Mexican Indigenous people. She also made racist comments about a councilmembers' Black son.

What they're saying: The fallout confirmed suspicions by some Black leaders that some Latino elected officials care little about the inequalities Black Americans face in their cities, said Martin Saiz, a political scientist at the California State University at Northridge.

  • "City politics is about coalition building, and, if your coalition starts to fall apart" little can get done and tensions will develop, he said.

That's particularly important during redistricting, which often pits groups against each other.

  • The leaked audio showed that overt racism played a role in the redistricting debate, Tom Hogen-Esch, a CSU at Northridge political science professor, told Axios.

The big picture: Black, Latino and Indigenous people demonstrated together at City Hall on Tuesday, calling on Martinez and others to resign.

  • Black protesters handed out "I'm with the Blacks" T-shirts to Latino protesters. A traditional Oaxacan band played outside the building and marched in solidarity with Black activists. Photos showed them holding anti-racism signs.

Context: A growing number of Latinos and Asian Americans are moving to cities as Black populations shift toward the suburbs, shaking up political representation in historically Black areas.

  • Like Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Clark County Commission (which covers Las Vegas) have debated how to give Latinos political representation.

In California, Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Wednesday his office would launch an investigation into Los Angeles officials' redistricting process following the release of the audio.

  • Councilmembers Gil Cedillo, Kevin de León and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera were on the call with Martinez and did not challenge her. Herreras has resigned.
Go deeper