By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — Any attempts by Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León to make peace with the Black community must begin with his resignation, a sentiment shared by many Black leaders in the aftermath of de León’s involvement in a secretly recorded racist conversation with other Latino public officials.
“If he wants to repair the damage, it starts with him leaving the City Council,” Melina Abdullah, president of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, said of de León.
Rev. William Smart, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, expressed similar thoughts about de León, who has spent the past two weeks seeking meetings with Black community leaders to ask for forgiveness and support.
“There can be no reconciliation until he resigns,” Smart said of de León. “If he came to me, I would say to him he has to resign. If he does that, I will help him through the process of reconciliation.”
“I ask that the Black community not judge me for that one meeting,” de Leon told The Wave Nov. 2 in a phone interview. “I have a shared commitment with the Black community on so many issues. I’ve been in the trenches with many people in the community and Black elected officials. My commitment has been real and genuine.”
De León has remained defiant in rejecting widespread calls for him to resign from his City Council seat as representative of the 14th District. First District Councilman Gil Cedillo also is refusing to resign but has not spoken publicly to defend his actions.
De León has granted interviews to several local media outlets in attempts to clear his name and reputation.
The City Council voted 10-0 Nov. 2 to ask City Attorney Mike Feuer to review the City Charter to determine if the council has legal authority to oust de León and Cedillo. Both have been censured by the council, which also denied de León’s request for a leave of absence.
Cedillo and de Leon were present for the now-infamous meeting in October 2021 with former Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez and Ron Herrera, former president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
De León reiterated that he has no intentions to resign. Martinez and Herrera resigned from their positions after excerpts of the meeting became public a year later. The four Latino leaders were heard engaging in racist commentary about minority groups and 11th District Councilman Mike Bonin’s African-American son.
The alarming part of the tape recording for Black L.A. residents were discussions among the four Latino leaders on how to re-district certain communities to diminish Black voting power in the city. That subject in particular is the driving force behind efforts in the Black community to get de León to resign.
Cedillo will be leaving the City Council in December after losing to Eunisses Hernandez in the June primary. Since de León’s term doesn’t end until 2024, he has become the primary target of protesters.
“This is not about forgiving someone for hurtful rhetoric,” Abdullah said of de León. “He was working to harm the Black community. We need to show a unified front in our community to show he must step down.”
Abdullah was one of the organizers of an 18-day protest encampment outside de León’s home in Eagle Rock. Abdullah said the encampment was shut down Nov. 1 after protesters learned that de León had moved out of his house.
Abdullah insisted that the protest movement against de León will continue.
“Operation Resignation has not gone away,” Abdullah said. “When you violate what you’re supposed to be doing as a public official, you need to step down. De León has betrayed his position.”
De León met with a small group of Black leaders and ministers Oct. 31 at a location on South Crenshaw Boulevard. The meeting was coordinated by the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. De León asked for the meeting as part of what he called the “first steps toward healing.”
“De Leon reached out to us,” said roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson. “I advised him to have an open-door meeting with Black leaders. He has to use his power for healing whether he resigns or not. I want to be clear. Nothing has changed from my position. My calls are still there for him to resign so we can move forward and address Black-Latino relations.”
De León said he plans to have more meetings in the future with Black leaders. Abdullah said de León canceled a meeting with a different group of Black leaders that was previously scheduled for Oct. 31 in the Crenshaw District. The cancellation has led to concerns that de Leon is “audience shopping” and being selective with his meeting participants.
“He doesn’t get to create segments in the Black community,” Abdullah said of de Leon. “Healing can’t happen that way.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.