California Attorney General Rob Bonta investigates LA redistribution amid fallout of leaked racist audio

LOS ANGELES (KABC) — California’s attorney general says he will investigate Los Angeles’ redistribution process as three city council members, including Nury Martinez, are being asked to resign over a record of racist comments.

Attorney General Rob Bonta’s move comes amid growing calls to address the ways in which politics can still affect post-census redrawing of district maps each decade.

“My office will be conducting an investigation into the city of LA’s redistribution process,” Bonta said, without giving many details. “We will collect the facts. We will work to find out the truth.”

“It is clear that an investigation is urgently needed to restore LA people’s confidence in the relocation process,” he added.

Bonta’s announcement comes after days of public outcry stemming from leaked audio in which council members Martinez and Kevin de León were heard making racist comments, which were once aimed at council member Mike Bonin’s black son. Councilor Gil Cedillo was present when the racist remarks were made.

All three have apologized but are still facing demands that they fully resign from their seats.

Martinez resigned as council leader and apologized Monday, saying she was ashamed of her racially offensive language in the year-long recording. However, she did not resign her seat on the council. She announced Tuesday that “I need to take a leave of absence and some time to have honest and heartfelt conversations with my family, constituents and community leaders.”

On Tuesday, protesters turned up at the first city council meeting since the audio was leaked and made emotionally charged comments during the public hearing.

In emotional remarks at Tuesday’s meeting, Bonin said he was deeply hurt by the recorded discussion. He lamented the damage to his young son and the fact that the city was in the international headlines that spotlighted racist language. “It makes me sick,” he said, and again called for the resignation of his colleagues.

“Los Angeles will heal,” he once said. “I want to lead with love.”

The leaked audio of the October 2021 conversation was recorded behind closed doors as the council redraws its own district boundaries.

The discussion, which also included a powerful Latino labor leader who has since resigned, focused on protecting Latino political power during the redrawing of council-district boundaries known as redistribution. The once-a-decade process can pit one group against another to gain a political advantage in future elections.

Bonta said the findings of his investigation could potentially result in civil or criminal penalties.

“It could lead to crime if the facts and the law dictate it,” he said. “Certainly, here in the state of California, there is a possibility of civil liability based on civil and voting rights statutes.”

He said the process “is just beginning and we don’t like to make conclusions first and get facts later.” The investigation will determine the outcome, he said, but he noted it could also prompt changes in policy at the state or local level.

Black and Hispanic voters often form alliances in politics. But tensions and rivalries between groups divided by race, geography, party affiliation, or religion have a long history in Los Angeles, and indeed across the country. Friction can affect housing, education, and jobs—even prisons—as well as the loot of political power.

The California Legislative Black Caucus said the recording “shows an appalling effort to decentralize black votes during the critical redistribution process.”

In one of the country’s most diverse cities, a long line of public speakers at the gathering said the revelation of the secretly taped meeting carried echoes of the Jim Crow era and was a blatant example of “anti-Blackness.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 KABC Television, LLC. All rights reserved. California Attorney General Rob Bonta investigates LA redistribution amid fallout of leaked racist audio

Laura Coffey

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