It only took 48 hours for a national scandal to build around a leaked conversation full of racist and cruel remarks by four powerful Latino leaders from Los Angeles. US President Joe Biden on Tuesday joined the ranks of those calling for the resignation of the individuals involved in the conversation, which took place in October 2021 behind closed doors. A recording of the private chat, which included derogatory comments about a young Black child, was briefly uploaded on the social platform Reddit and first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
One of the participants in the conversation, labor leader Ron Herrera, resigned on Monday, according to a statement by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which rejected the “repulsive and vile” comments and called “on those elected officials who were present to follow president Herrera’s example by immediately resigning as well.”
The three other individuals involved in the scandal are Los Angeles City Council members Nury Martínez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo. Martínez, who was also serving as the Council president, has stepped down from that role and requested a leave of absence, but stopped short of resigning from the legislative body altogether. The other two members were still holding on to their seats on Tuesday night despite mounting citizen protests.
The scandal has triggered a reaction by numerous politicians, from LA Mayor Eric Garcetti to California Governor Gavin Newsom. On Tuesday, a White House official said that President Joe Biden also believes the officials should step down.
I take a lot of hits, and I know I practically invite a bunch of them. But my son? It makes my soul bleedLA City Council member Mike Bonin
“The president is glad to see that one of the participants in that conversation has resigned, but they all should. He believes that they all should resign,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday in reply to a reporter’s question on the subject.
At one point in the leaked conversation, Martínez mocked the young Black child of white council member Mike Bonin, saying “parece changuito,” meaning “he looks like a little monkey,” in an exchange about the way the young boy allegedly misbehaved on a float during a parade on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Martínez said the child was being brought up “like a little white kid” and needed some stronger parenting. “I was like, this kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.” De León suggested that Bonin uses his adopted child as a fashion accessory, comparing it to when Martínez “wears a Goyard bag or a Louis Vuitton bag.”
At Tuesday’s Council meeting – which Martínez did not attend and the other two council members were booed out of – Bonin delivered an emotional speech in which he said that as an elected official, “I take a lot of hits, and I know I practically invite a bunch of them. But my son? It makes my soul bleed.” Bonin said that the apologies issued by the involved parties are a good second step, but should be preceded by their resignations.
Council member Mitch O’Farrell, who is now serving as the acting president, denounced “the casual racism” and the “abhorrent language” used in the leaked conversation, which also included derogatory references to Bonin’s homosexuality. “You deserved better,” O’Farrell, a gay activist, told Bonin.
At the October 2021 meeting between the four Latino leaders, Martínez also had disparaging words for Mexican immigrants from Oaxaca, many of whom live in the city’s Koreatown neighborhood. “I see a lot of little short dark people,” said Martínez. “Tan feos (so ugly).”
None of the politicians knew they were being recorded, and the candid conversation laid bare the power struggles between the racial groups that make up Los Angeles County, population 10.4 million. The city is 9% Black and nearly 50% Latino, yet Hispanic representation in the city council is limited to the districts led by Martinez, De Leon and Cedillo, less than a third of the 15 council members sitting on the City Council.
The conversation took place in the context of a once-a-decade process to redefine the city’s districts. Councilors were jockeying to ensure their own districts would include “assets” such as airports and factories, representing jobs and economic resources.