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After racist remarks, Nury Martinez resigns as president of the LA City Council

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Los Angeles is roiling in scandal as the City Council president, Nury Martinez, stepped down after being caught making racist remarks in a leaked recording.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah, someone recorded her conversation in which she was discussing redistricting with two other council members, Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo. They were talking about how to keep a strong Latino presence on the LA City Council. Now some people are calling for all three members to resign.

FADEL: For more, we're joined by KQED's Saul Gonzalez in Los Angeles. And just a warning - we're going to be discussing the racist things that Martinez said. Hi, Saul.

SAUL GONZALEZ, BYLINE: Hi.

FADEL: OK. Saul, so just tell us exactly what was said and what happened in these recordings.

GONZALEZ: OK. Let me make this really simple because a lot was said.

FADEL: Yeah.

GONZALEZ: In audio obtained by the LA Times, then-Council President Nury Martinez compared the adopted Black son of a white city council colleague to a changuito - that's Spanish for little monkey. And she uses this phrase - little, short, dark people. That's an apparent reference to Oaxacan immigrants. She also calls the LA County DA as being, quote, "with the Blacks." Now, council members Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo were also part of this conversation in which the group discussed redistricting and Latino representation on the council. And there was a very prominent LA County labor leader also present.

FADEL: And so a lot of this racism directed at Black people. How is the Black community reacting?

GONZALEZ: Well, many in the Black community are reacting with just anger and despondency and sadness to these comments. Here's how Irma Hallwood (ph), a Black labor activist in LA, told me how she felt. We spoke at a church in South Los Angeles where Black religious and civil rights leaders had gathered.

IRMA HALLWOOD: Hurt, angry, disappointed. I won't say the rest because I'm in the house of God. But I'm very disappointed, betrayed.

GONZALEZ: Some are also expressing concerns about how genuine some Latino leaders have been when they've talked about forming Black-brown alliances around common issues like economic justice and police reform. In the past, there have been tensions between these communities over such issues as immigration and jobs. And there have been instances of Latino gangs targeting Black residents in some neighborhoods. And the Black community has this long-term anxiety about, really, their place in Los Angeles. They've seen their size - the size of their population shrink relative to other communities. They're now under 10% of LA's population, while, of course, the Latino population has boomed over the last generation or two, and Latinos now account for roughly half of LA's population.

FADEL: Yeah, and the comments were also made during a conversation about redistricting and Latino political power. So can you give us some context about the political dynamics here?

GONZALEZ: Well, you know, it all orbits around political clout, right?

FADEL: Right.

GONZALEZ: I mean, where district lines are drawn is - that's incredibly important to different racial and ethnic groups who want to make sure that they can elect a person who represents their interests and their communities and experiences at city hall. Now, people in favor of coalition building, they don't want that redistricting to become a zero-sum game between Black people and Latinos in LA, although the council members who were captured on tape seem to be talking in just those terms, mainly protecting the position and clout of Latinos at city Hall.

FADEL: KQED's Saul Gonzalez in Los Angeles. Thank you for your time.

GONZALEZ: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Saul Gonzales