By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — City Councilman Kevin de León’s refusal to resign from his position representing the 14th District is raising concerns about rising tensions between Black and Latino communities.
Melina Abdullah, leader of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, accused de León of “whipping up anti-Black sentiment among his supporters” in response to increased protests calling for his resignation.
“We’re on the verge of potential violence if we allow de León to continue this type of narrative,” Abdullah said.
De León spokesperson Pete Brown denied that de León is projecting an “anti-Black sentiment” and claimed that the councilman is working hard to maintain a positive relationship between Black and Latino communities in the city.
“There’s an attempt out here to create a false Black-brown rift,” Brown said. “The council member has made it very clear that we stand together with our African-American brothers and sisters in the fight for racial justice. We have the same challenges.”
Protesters and de León supporters got into heated shouting matches Dec. 13 inside the City Council chambers when de León showed up for the meeting. De León was censured by his City Council colleagues in October for his role in a 2021 taped racist conversation that was leaked to the media, but he is still allowed to attend meetings and perform normal duties.
The agitation between de León supporters and protesters forced the City Council to pause the Dec. 13 meeting twice before de León eventually left and emotions calmed down. That disruption followed an incident Dec. 9 where de León was involved in a physical altercation at a holiday event with Jason Reedy, a member of the People’s City Council and a Black Lives Matter-LA supporter.
Reedy and de León both filed police reports after the incident. Despite mounting tensions, Abdullah said her organization and other groups will continue to be visible to protest de León and demand his resignation.
“We’re standing up against racism,” Abdullah said. “No one should partner with de León on anything. He should be cast out of the community.”
Brown said de León is planning more meetings with Black community leaders to further make his case for peace and unity. After the taped recording surfaced, de León met with various leaders and community members.
He has stayed active in spite of the controversy surrounding him and his district. He spoke to a group of senior citizens Dec. 14 at a holiday event in El Sereno and reiterated that he has no intentions of resigning.
Widespread calls for de León’s resignation, even from President Joe Biden, followed revelations of the secretly recorded conversation in which de León and three other Latino leaders were heard engaging in racist commentary. Some of the comments were aimed at the African-American son of former 11th District Councilman Mike Bonin. Other comments centered around plans to diminish voting power in predominantly Black districts in the city, specifically the Eighth District, led by Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.
The infamous meeting included former City Council President Nury Martinez, First District Councilman Gil Cedillo and Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Martinez and Herrera resigned two days after the tape surfaced. Cedillo refused to resign, but his term ended last week after he lost to Eunisses Hernandez in the June primary.
De León’s defiance is leading to more frustration in the City Council, which is struggling to function during his attempts to hold onto his seat.
Harris-Dawson, whose seat is next to de León’s in the City Council chambers, heard de León was planning to attend the Dec. 13 meeting. Harris-Dawson said he deliberately stayed away to avoid interacting with de León.
“It’s infuriating that I have to sit next to him,” Harris-Dawson said of de León. “He has us in a very untenable position. He’s on the council because the rules allow him to be. You would think a guy with his so-called love for the city, would love the city enough to understand when you have become more of a problem than an asset. He’s become a problem.”
The City Council is on recess now until Jan. 10, sparing council members for four weeks of any further discourse involving de León.
When the council returns to work in 2023, Harris-Dawson said there will be a strong push to examine the City Charter and potentially vote on rules changes that will create guidelines on disciplinary action for council members. There are no current parameters in the City Charter that govern situations like the council has with de León and any changes in the charter would have to be approved by voters.
“We’re going to take a very aggressive look at everything … redistricting, council rules, authority of the council president and other things,” Harris-Dawson said. “Right now, there’s nothing in place to stop de León from doing what he’s doing.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at email@example.com.