A group of Los Angeles civil rights and religious leaders Monday called on City Council members Nury Martinez, Kevin de LeÃ³n and Gil Cedillo and L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera to resign — gathering at the Southside Bethel Baptist Church to denounce racist comments made during a conversation the four officials had in October 2021 that was leaked on Sunday.
The religious and civil rights leaders also called for a review of last year’s council redistricting process, after the tapes revealed the three council members strategizing on how to adjust districts to better help them win re-election.
“Their statements have brought a lot of trauma,” said the Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Southern California. “The race relations in Los Angeles is very tense.”
All four of the officials on the tape have apologized, but none has resigned despite fierce backlash from their colleagues, other elected officials and community groups. Martinez stepped down from her post as council president on Monday, but not from the council.
During the conversation, Martinez made racist remarks aimed at Councilman Mike Bonin’s 2-year-old adopted Black son (Bonin is white). Martinez said Bonin’s son was being raised “like a little white kid,” criticizing how the child was behaving on a float at a Martin Luther King Day parade.
“This kid needs a beatdown,” Martinez said. “Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.”’
Martinez also called the child “ese changuito,” Spanish for “that little monkey.”
De LeÃ³n compared Bonin’s handling of his son at the MLK Parade to “when Nury brings her little yard bag or the Louis Vuitton bag.”
“Su negrito, like on the side,” Martinez added, using a Spanish term for a Black person that’s considered demeaning by many.
The Rev. John Cager, president of the Southern California Conference’s AME Church Ministers Alliance, said Los Angeles has too many problems to be playing “racial games in the policy arena.”
“We are a city with way too many unhoused,” Cager said. “We have an economic situation where our children who graduate from college can’t graduate in the neighborhood where they work.
“And they’re sitting in the back room telling monkey jokes. L.A. is better than that.”
Michael Lawson, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League, said he did not expect to be at odds with city leaders who have been working “arm and arm” with the Black community.
“Now we have a member of our City Council who spews language as if she were a Trump MAGA person,” Lawson said. “This is unacceptable.”
Latricia Mitchell, president of the NAACP’s Los Angeles chapter, echoed calls for resignation. She said that all eyes in the state of California were on Los Angeles.
“They all need to resign,” Mitchell said. “They were in that room. They said nothing. If you know something is wrong and you don’t say anything, it’s a sin.”
Martinez stepping down as president is not enough, according to Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. Hutchinson said the council should suspend de LeÃ³n and Cedillo, claiming that “both are just as complicit as Martinez in their words or silence on racial hate.”
Hutchinson said the council “had no problem suspending” Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is Black, after he was indicted on federal corruption charges.
“Now it will show the rigor with Cedillo and de LeÃ³n,” Hutchinson said, adding the council should show it is capable of punishing one its own for “creating a climate of racial tension and discord in Los Angeles.”
On redistricting, National Action Network Western Regional Director Lori Condinus claimed that the council members were “no different than others in this country to suppress our vote.” During the conversation, the council members discussed how they could elect more Latinos to the council, noting certain coveted high-renter areas such as Koreatown.
On the recording, Martinez said Councilwoman Nithya Raman was “making a play” for Koreatown but that she, Martinez, wasn’t going to entertain the idea.
Raman is up for re-election in 2024. Martinez said it would serve them to not give Raman all of Koreatown because it would give Raman more renters in her district.
“I told her that’s not happening,” Martinez said. “You’re going to get the district that you’re going to get. You’re going to have to run. And probably in a district where more than half of them don’t know who you are. Go f— do the work and see if you can get re-elected.”
Martinez then described people living in the area of Lafeyette Park and Shatto Place of Koreatown as “short dark people.” She added “tan feos,” Spanish for “They’re ugly.”
Najee Ali, founder of Project Islamic Hope, blasted the officials for back-room politics, accusing them of trying to suppress the Black vote and gerrymandering districts. Latinos make up nearly half of the population of Los Angeles, while the Black population is just below 9%.
He added: “We know the racist comments made by the four Latino leaders in the room don’t reflect views of a majority of Latinos in city. We will not let them tear our city apart.”
Ali also said he was a friend of Bonin and called Bonin’s son, Jacob, a loving and fun child.
“For him to be called a little monkey, it causes great hurt and pain,” Ali said. “We want Mike Bonin to know that we love you. We love Jacob. We’re going to stand with your family, to let your family know you have a village behind you. Jacob is a beautiful child. He is not a little monkey.”