L.A. city councilman says he's had enough of racist, sexist remarks at meetings

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks to the press after casting his vote at Hot and Cool Cafe in Leimert Park on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

In his first City Council meeting since the 2000s, Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas Tuesday chastised racist and sexist remarks by public speakers, which he said the governing body has had to hear for years.

Ridley-Thomas was a councilman between 1991 and 2002, but legal disputes in recent years have ended decidedly in favor of the speakers, basically allowing them to say whatever they want under the protection of the First Amendment -- as long as they don't threaten anyone.

Ridley-Thomas, who was a county supervisor from 2008 until this year, said the council and the public should not have to listen to a "barrage" of hateful comments, and he called for the City Attorney's Office to take preventative measures.

"This is a subjective zone of ruling, and it should not be tolerated," Ridley-Thomas said. "It has to be discouraged in every way possible. It is incendiary. It is disruptive, not to mention it is fundamentally offensive and has no place."

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In 2014, the city paid $215,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by Michael Hunt, a Black man who was removed from a city commission meeting for wearing a KKK-inspired hood and a T-shirt with a racial slur on it.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office in 2016 decided not to file charges against Wayne Spindler, a regular at City Hall meetings, who turned in a public comment card scrawled with racist images.

"I am completely sympathetic with what Councilmember Ridley-Thomas is saying," said Strefan Fauble, the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office representative to the council. "Unfortunately, the First Amendment really limits our ability to restrict remarks. Though racist and sexist ... we've talked about this at length before, and it's complicated, I know, but I would be happy, councilman, to talk to you in private about the legal issues involved here."

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Armando Herman, who has been a gadfly at City Council meetings for years, unloaded his typical unfiltered deluge of remarks Tuesday morning, trying to bait the council into addressing his outbursts by calling them every disparaging thing he could muster.

After such outbursts, council members who grit their teeth through that type of language typically reply to the comments with "Thank you, next caller."

In the last 18 months, only a few times has the council stopped a meeting to address these matters, particularly when there were children brought to the Council Chamber on a field trip and were well within earshot of that kind of language.

Councilman Mitch O'Farrell said such comments have been the burden of the City Council for the last seven years, and he said hostile work environments are illegal and not tolerated in the private sector and shouldn't be tolerated in the public sector.

"I speak on behalf of the tens of thousands of city employees who are subjected to this, this hostility and this harassment," O'Farrell said.

O'Farrell said he would like to have the City Attorney's Office weigh in on what could be legally done to curtail such public comments.

Most public speakers do not resort to such discourse, and several speakers who followed Herman said they were dismayed that it has taken this long to try to implement a way to reduce the vitriolic comments.