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Crowd demands resignations at chaotic L.A. City Council meeting after leaked recording of racist remarks

Members of the public called for council members Nury Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo to step down.

An outraged crowd converged on a meeting at Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday and demanded the immediate resignations of three Latino City Council members after an audio recording of racist remarks surfaced this week.

The raucous group initially delayed the beginning of the meeting and chanted “resign now” and “not one more day,” directing their ire at Nury Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, who have all apologized for their roles in the audio secretly recorded at a meeting last year.

Martinez has resigned as council president, and she announced she is taking a leave of absence from the council, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Faith, labor, immigrant and community members raise their fists at a news conference before the Los Angeles City Council meeting outside city hall.
Faith, labor, immigrant and community members at a news conference to denounce racism and demand change before Tuesday's Los Angeles City Council meeting in response to a leaked recording of a racist conversation among leaders at City Hall and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor president. Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

In the leaked comments from a meeting last year, Martinez likened the Black son of council member Mike Bonin, who was 2 years old at the time, to an animal. She is also heard on the recording implying that the county’s progressive district attorney shouldn’t be supported because he's "with the Blacks.”

The 2021 audio from a political strategy meeting attended by a handful of Latino Democrats on the council was first reported Sunday by the Los Angeles Times.

'Resign today'

Before Tuesday’s meeting began, some members of the crowd wore shirts that said “I’m with the Blacks.”

When Cedillo was seen, the crowd started chanting, “Resign Gil.” The crowd booed when they saw de León. Neither Cedillo or de León remained at the meeting or took part in votes.

Lori Condinus of the National Action Network Los Angeles was one of dozens of members of the public to speak.

“The anti-Blackness unacceptable. The anti-immigrant language unacceptable. We are here today to say, 'Resign today,”' Condinus said. “Not tomorrow, not when their term is over, but on today.”

Council member Mitch O’Farrell, serving as acting president, agreed with the crowd and said it’s time for the three to move on.

“I do not believe we can have the healing that is necessary or govern as we need to while council members Martinez, de León, Cedillo remain as members of this council. I say those words with a heavy heart, but this is a heavy and deeply tragic moment for this city,” he said.

“The court of public opinion has rendered a verdict, and the verdict is they all must resign.”

O’Farrell’s statement was met with cheers.

Even President Joe Biden has weighed in on the topic, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“He believes that they all should resign,” Jean-Pierre said. “The language that was used and tolerated during that conversation was unacceptable, and it was appalling. They should all step down.”

'Makes my soul bleed and my temper burn'

An emotional Bonin, whose adopted son was a target of the racist language on the recording, said at the meeting he was “reeling."

“My husband and I are both raw and angry and heartbroken and sick for our family and for Los Angeles,” he said. The comments on the recording were vile and “cut the spirit” of the city, he said.

Bonin said he loves his son and that as a white father with a Black child, he didn’t want “an angry white dad” to be a focal point. He said racism against his child was out of bounds.

“That makes my soul bleed, and it makes my temper burn. And I know I’m not alone, because Los Angeles has spoken, and it feels the same way.”

“Asking for forgiveness is a good first step,” Bonin said. He then corrected himself and said it was a second step, the first being resignation.

Resignation and a leave of absence

The meeting last year, apparently about political strategy and redistricting, was attended by Martinez, Cedillo and de León, as well as Ron Herrera, the president of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. All are Latino Democrats.

The Los Angeles Times reported Herrera offered his resignation at a meeting Monday night with the federation’s executive board, which it accepted. Herrera and the Federation of Labor could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Martinez apologized and announced she was stepping down as council president in a statement Monday.

“I ask for forgiveness from my colleagues and from the residents of this city that I love so much. In the end, it is not my apologies that matter most; it will be the actions I take from this day forward. I hope that you will give me the opportunity to make amends,” she said.

“Therefore, effective immediately I am resigning as President of the Los Angeles City Council."

She announced a leave of absence Tuesday, NBC Los Angeles reported, but has not indicated whether she will resign her council seat.

“This has been one of the most difficult times of my life and I recognize this is entirely of my own making,” Martinez said in a statement.

“At this moment, I need to take a leave of absence and take some time to have an honest and heartfelt conversation with my family, my constituents, and community leaders. I am so sorry to the residents of Council District 6, my colleagues, and the City of Los Angeles."

The recording that started a firestorm

The audio surfaced on a Reddit discussion board this month but was deleted. The source of the recording is unknown, and NBC News hasn’t determined whether it has been edited.

The remarks about Bonin's son concerned the child's behavior at a parade in 2017 when he was 2 years old. Martinez used a Spanish term to refer to the boy as an animal.

Martinez also dismissed Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, a justice reform advocate who is reviled by law-and-order politicians and has survived two Republican-led recall attempts, as unworthy of the support of the people in the room.

“F--- that guy. He’s with the Blacks,” she said.

Also on the recording, De León called Bonin, who is white, the 15-seat council’s “fourth Black member.” De León said Bonin doesn’t support Latinos — that he has never said “a peep” about them.

Martinez asked why Bonin allegedly thinks he’s Black, and De León responded, “His kid is.”

De León — a San Diego-raised politician who rose to statewide prominence as a legislator and then unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Los Angeles — suggested Bonin treated his son like a fashion accessory, a handbag.

Herrera didn’t appear to utter any racist remarks. He did say the group’s support for a leader to take over the seat for a traditionally Black district should be someone who would be an ally on Latino interests.