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Black & Indigenous Activists Call for 3 Latinx L.A. City Councilmembers to Resign over Racist Remarks

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Image Credit: YouTube: LACityClerk

A political scandal is unfolding in Los Angeles, where City Council President Nury Martinez resigned from her leadership post Monday after she was caught on tape using racist language about the city’s Indigenous immigrant population and referring to the Black son of another city councilmember as a “little monkey.” Martinez made the comments last year during a conversation discussing redistricting with Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, as well as Ron Herrera, the head of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, who also resigned from his leadership post Monday. “Her [Martinez] inciting hate against Indigenous people has a direct impact on their lives,” says Odilia Romero of the L.A.-based organization Indigenous Communities in Leadership, who’s calling for Martinez’s resignation. “Beyond the pain and beyond the hurt is also this effort to really sideline Black power,” says Melina Abdullah of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, who is calling for the resignation of all four councilmembers, an investigation into how racism within the city council has undermined Black electoral power, and a “fundamental culture shift” in city politics.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking at the growing political scandal in Los Angeles. On Monday, the president of the Los Angeles City Council, Nury Martinez, resigned from her leadership post after she was caught on tape using racist language against Indigenous people in the city and for describing the Black son of a city councilmember as a “little monkey.” Martinez made the comments last year during a conversation discussing redistricting with Los Angeles City Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, as well as Ron Herrera, the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, who also resigned last night.

It’s unclear who recorded the call or who leaked it to the media, but it comes just weeks before voters head to the polls in Los Angeles to pick a new mayor. The scandal has put a spotlight on tension between Latinx and Black political leaders in Los Angeles. In one part of the phone call, Nury Martinez can be heard talking about the adopted son of fellow Democratic Councilmember Mike Bonin. Bonin is white; his son is Black. She accused Bonin handling his son as if he were a, quote, “accessory” like a purse, and she describes the boy as ”changuito,” which translates as “little monkey.” Listen carefully.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT NURY MARTINEZ: It’s like the oddest thing, all the — it’s like Black and Brown on this float. And then there’s these — this white guy with his little Black kid, who’s misbehaved. Este niño has no — he’s — they’re not even —

COUNCILMEMBER KEVIN DE LEÓN: Bounding him.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT NURY MARTINEZ: Yeah, no, they’re not doing — the kid is bouncing off the effing walls on the float, practically tipping it over. There’s nothing you can do to control him, parece changuito. And I’m just like, “Oh my god!” … They’re raising him like a little white kid, which I was like, this kid needs a beatdown, like let me take him around the corner, and then I’ll bring him back.

COUNCILMEMBER KEVIN DE LEÓN: Yeah.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT NURY MARTINEZ: Si, me entiendes? Ven pa’ca.

COUNCILMEMBER KEVIN DE LEÓN: Just a pinch. Something.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT NURY MARTINEZ: Yeah.

COUNCILMEMBER KEVIN DE LEÓN: But yes, it was [inaudible].

COUNCIL PRESIDENT NURY MARTINEZ: So, anyways, getting back to redistricting.

AMY GOODMAN: In another part of the call, Nury Martinez is heard talking about Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, saying, quote, “F— that guy. He’s with the Blacks.” Martinez is also heard, along with Gil Cedillo, commenting about Indigenous people from Central America that live in Koreatown. She describes them as “short dark people,” then uses a Spanish term, tan feos, to say they’re ugly.

COUNCILMEMBER GIL CEDILLO: Yeah, that’s called K-Town. Yeah.

RON HERRERA: Yes.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT NURY MARTINEZ: I see a lot of little short dark people.

COUNCILMEMBER GIL CEDILLO: Yeah, little Oaxacans. Little Oaxacan Koreans. Not even like Kevin, little ones.

RON HERRERA: Indians. We’re not allowed to call them Indians.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT NURY MARTINEZ: I was like, I don’t know where these people are from. I was like, I don’t know what village they came, how they got here. But —

COUNCILMEMBER GIL CEDILLO: And none of them wearing shoes.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT NURY MARTINEZ: Tan feos.

RON HERRERA: So, I get what we have to do, right? Just massage to create districts that benefit you all.

COUNCILMEMBER GIL CEDILLO: Yeah.

RON HERRERA: Right? And the future.

COUNCILMEMBER GIL CEDILLO: Yeah.

COUNCILMEMBER KEVIN DE LEÓN: And the future.

RON HERRERA: But we got to figure out Mark’s seat, too.

COUNCILMEMBER KEVIN DE LEÓN: Mm-hmm, yeah.

RON HERRERA: That benefits you three.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice was Ron Herrera, who resigned yesterday as head of the L.A. County Federation of Labor. The Los Angeles Times editorial board is now calling for all three city councilmembers heard on the call to resign: Nury Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo.

We’re joined now by two guests. Melina Abdullah is co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, organizes globally with BLM Grassroots. She’s a professor of pan-African studies at California State University, Los Angeles. And Odilia Romero is the co-founder and executive director of Indigenous Communities in Leadership, or CIELO, an Indigenous women-led group in Los Angeles that supports Indigenous migrant communities.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Odilia, let’s begin with you. You held a news conference yesterday calling on the resignation of these Latinx leaders in Los Angeles. Can you respond to what’s unfolding, this leaked tape of a conversation they had about a year ago?

ODILIA ROMERO: Well, when I first heard this tape, I was very upset. I was very upset because these are our elected officials that were making these comments. I was not surprised, though, because part of our struggle at CIELO is to, you know, call out the broader Latinx movement, or call them in, and say, like, “Hey, we have to stop this racism against Indigenous people.” As a human rights organization, we get these calls every day of somebody who says, “Get me a Oaxacan speaker.” And we’re like, “What is that?” You know, CIELO fights against the racism and discrimination against Indigenous people on a daily basis, but it was not shocking. I’m shocked that people are shocked that this actually happens.

But Indigenous people go through this every single day in different parts of their daily lives, in schools, in hospitals, on the streets. So, her inciting hate against Indigenous people has a direct impact on our lives, at a school, at a hospital. And we still want her to resign. I mean, she resigned the presidency, but a person like Nury, like Kevin and Cedillo cannot continue representing us as Angelenos, because you’re inciting hate against our African American relatives, Indigenous people. It’s unacceptable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Odilia, could you talk about the Oaxacan community in Koreatown and how it was brought into this discussion of voting redistricting?

ODILIA ROMERO: Well, Koreatown has a lot of Zapotec community. It is, I would say, one of the most beautiful places, because there’s so much diversity there. But my entire family lives in Koreatown. Indigenous people live in Koreatown. And that area, you know, it’s part of Cedillo’s area. And this — I mean, for me, the comments were disgusting, but that area of Koreatown, there’s a lot of population of Indigenous Oaxacan, but also, you know, they failed to recognize that we contribute to Koreatown. And we’re not only in Koreatown, we’re all over. But because that redistricting is happening, on that conversation, you know, it is unfortunate of what they think of us, and also how they’re going to — what services they would provide or what is it — you know, how is it that they’re going to serve a group of people that they talk so awful about, right? So, I think —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I wanted —

ODILIA ROMERO: — you have to come to Koreatown — yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I wanted to ask you also — you mentioned Councilman Gil Cedillo. I’ve known Gil Cedillo for more than 30 years, and I actually tried to reach him. I got him over the phone last night and asked him about this horrendous — this horrendous conversation. He was remorseful, but at the same time he admitted that he should have spoken out and tried to stop the council president from some of her remarks. Can you talk about the fact, here Gil Cedillo has been a champion of the undocumented now for decades in Los Angeles — the contrast between his actions and his words and the bias that he showed, especially toward the Oaxacan community, in this tape?

ODILIA ROMERO: I have to tell you, I have known Cedillo, as well, for many years. And actually, last year, after that conversation, I saw him at a restaurant. And the first thing he told me, “You look so festive today.” So I’m not surprised. He might be remorseful, but I don’t think it comes from his heart. And so, I mean, he has been a champion of like the driver’s license for undocumented people, but his action has shown other — I mean, these words.

But it’s not uncommon for the broader Latino movement to make this comment, right? We go back to — there are things that you do, for example, support the driver’s license, but you’re thinking as a broader Latino. You’re not thinking, “Oh, this is going to benefit Indigenous people.” Because that’s where we have an issue, like we are lumped into being Latinos, every single one of us. No one is taking into account that within the Latin American continent there is people that speak other languages. We are different. Our traditions are different. Our culture is different. Our language is different. We’re not part of the Latino community.

So, he just continued what we have been living for hundreds of years as Indigenous people, this racism and discrimination. It is very common for people to call us these names, right? I’m not going to repeat them, because they’re very harmful. What am I going to tell my 12-year-old when he’s hearing all this news about Indigenous Oaxacans? So…

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Melina Abdullah into the conversation. She is the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. Professor Abdullah, your response to what has taken place? And if you could comment, overall, about tensions between the Black and Latino community in Los Angeles?

MELINA ABDULLAH: Sure. So, I appreciate Sister Odilia also for pulling together Black and Indigenous people yesterday so the press conference that was held included CIELO, but Black Lives Matter was also invited. I think that that should be the narrative of what Los Angeles really is, that in community, Black folks, Indigenous folks, Brown folks do work together to challenge racism, to challenge oppression. And that’s really the story of Los Angeles.

What we saw happen, what we heard happen is an indication of some elected leaders that they intend to simply replace white supremacist oppressors with Brown faces, so Brown faces that enact the same kind of oppressive policies and use the same kind of oppressive language as white folks who used to hold power, or who once held power and are on their way out. And so, I think that’s what we’re seeing happening.

What’s harmful to me is, yes, it was really hurtful and problematic to listen to this language — and I definitely reached out to Mike Bonin. As a Black mother, you know, I felt very hurt for his son. His son is — at the time was 2 years old. And to talk about any Black child in the way that they were spoken about is painful.

But beyond the pain and beyond the hurt is also this effort to really sideline Black power, to oppress Black power. We have to remember that what that meeting was about was redistricting in the city of Los Angeles. So, these four so-called leaders got together, and they were plotting, planning, conspiring to undermine Black power in the city of Los Angeles.

And so, my assessment of it is that Black folks and Brown folks and Indigenous folks and everybody who wants a just and equitable and fair and transparent and democratic system in Los Angeles has to come together and demand that all four of them resign, so not just Ron Herrera who stepped down, not just Nury Martinez stepping down from her leadership position, but the three city councilmembers must step down from their City Council seats. And then we must undergo a fundamental culture shift within both the political sphere but also within organized labor, where I’m also a delegate to the L.A. County Federation of Labor, where Ron Herrera was president.

Finally, last night more than 60 Black leaders came together on an emergency call. We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning and came up with a list of demands, that demands that, yes, all four of them be removed from their posts, that they step down from their posts, but also we want more than that. We want the presidency to go to Mike Bonin for the — the City Council presidency to go to Mike Bonin for the remainder of the term. We want to make sure that no elected leader is permitted to carry out any leadership position who says anything that’s anti-Black or racist or homophobic — which we haven’t yet talked about.

And we want to make sure that this culture shift within the L.A. County Federation of Labor means that there’s an opening up of seats in leadership positions to Black folks who are in labor, and that also includes the removal of police associations from the Federation of Labor. So there’s lots that we want beyond the resignation of these folks. This is more than just hurt feelings. This is about how this has negatively impacted Black power in the city. And we also want an investigation into that. How did this impact the lines that were drawn as they were plotting and planning about redistricting?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Abdullah, you mentioned that we haven’t talked about the homophobic character. These conversations reveal bias that was anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, anti-gay, and also you have mentioned that you believe it’s also classist. Could you talk about that?

MELINA ABDULLAH: Yes. So, they also, if you listen to the tape, were talking about renters in the city. Renters make up the majority of Los Angeles. We know that Black folks are being pushed out of the city of Los Angeles. We’ve seen really kind of a out — running out of the city. Black folks and poor folks are being run out of the city because of the gentrification that’s taking place. They were speaking negatively about renters. They were speaking negatively about our attempts to organize — in fact, our hugely successful attempts to organize. So, Kevin de León is on that tape talking about The Wizard of Oz and how we make it seem like there’s 250 of us, but there’s really only 25 Black people yelling. Well, let me tell say, there were more than 25 Black people yelling last night outside of Kevin de León’s house. There were more than 25 Black people yelling, night before last, outside of Nury Martinez’s house. And there will be more than 25 Black people yelling this morning, as hundreds of us prepare to go to the Los Angeles City Council meeting to demand that they all step down from their City Council seats.

AMY GOODMAN: Many Indigenous people are in the labor federation that Ron Herrera has now just resigned from. Odilia, we just have 30 seconds, but the resources you’ve been demanding for the crisis of how people deal with migration in this country, you as a leader of the Indigenous community in Los Angeles that has been slandered in these calls, in this conversation?

ODILIA ROMERO: Well, you know, with the situation with Ron Herrera, it is unfortunate that he did not acknowledge the contribution of Indigenous workers, and went on to allow these awful remarks against Indigenous people. And this racism against Black, against Indigenous people, against the LGBTQ needs to stop. And we need — and we continue to demand that Nury, Kevin de León and Cedillo resign. And yes, we are headed to City Hall today, along with our Black relatives.

AMY GOODMAN: Odilia Romero, we want to thank you for being with us, co-founder and executive director of CIELO, Indigenous Communities in Leadership, an Indigenous women-led group in Los Angeles, and Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, organizes globally with BLM Grassroots, professor of pan-African studies at California State University in Los Angeles, speaking to us today from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Coming up, a jury in Utah has acquitted two animal rights activist who faced years in prison for rescuing two sick piglets from a Smithfield Foods factory farm in Utah. Stay with us.

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