Column: Even if Kevin de León won’t resign, activists have a plan. ‘We’re never letting this go.’

Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de León sits alone at a meeting after his colleagues walked out in protest on Tuesday.
Embattled Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de León sits alone at a meeting at City Hall on Tuesday after his colleagues walked out in protest of his attendance.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

On a recent afternoon, a small group of activists showed up outside Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de León’s field office in El Sereno.

They chanted. They jeered. They milled about on the sidewalk for a while. They hoisted signs labeling him a racist and demanding that he resign — like right now. And then they left.

Another day, another protest. Another dashed hope.


For the past two months, ever since a leaked recording revealed De León’s participation in a racist discussion about how to dilute Black political power in L.A., this is more or less how it has been. Activists pushing him to get gone, and De León refusing for the most self-serving and nonsensical of reasons.

In the beginning, there was real optimism that such protests and public shaming would work.

That, in a bid to salvage his damaged reputation, De León would put his ego and his faux self-righteousness aside and resign. Or, as a once-rising star in Democratic circles, that he would do so to save his career if enough powerful people in the party demanded it.

Or that maybe — just maybe — De León, who came to politics through community organizing, would recognize he can no longer effectively represent the Eastside constituents he claims to care so much about, because he can’t even show up to a City Council meeting without all hell breaking loose.

We saw that last week, when De León walked into the council chambers halfway through the meeting, prompting several of his colleagues to walk out in protest. Then he sat there alone for an hour. Even as activists screamed at him to leave, he casually tapped the screen of his phone and made a show of appearing in deep thought. Every now and then, he said a few words to his staff.

It takes gall to hold up city business to throw a silent temper tantrum because people are mad about your anti-Black comments.


It takes extraordinary gall to do it, knowing full well it could’ve prompted a weeks-long delay in helping thousands of unhoused Black people in your district, as well as sullied the first major policy proposal from the city’s newly elected Black mayor, Karen Bass.

Council members backed the mayor’s homelessness proposal even though some had threatened to walk out if Councilmember Kevin de León returned. He voted from a back room.

Dec. 13, 2022

“The city cannot move forward with him on the council,” Ricci Sergienko, co-founder of the activist group People’s City Council, told The Times.

And yet, not only is De León still in office, but he appears to be digging in his heels.

His spokesperson, Pete Brown, told my Times colleague Fidel Martinez that the council member has every intention on attending the next meeting on Jan. 10, despite the near-certainty that others on the City Council will walk out again and activists will show up en masse to hurl invective over his very presence.

So some of the early optimism about protests bringing about a quick resignation is fading and, instead, disillusionment and exhaustion seem to be creeping in.

During a recent USC webinar on the fallout from the leaked recording, Odilia Romero, executive director of Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo, which fights racism against Indigenous people, was as outraged as ever about De León. But she also was at a bit of a loss about what to do next, other than find ways to work around him to rebuild a movement of solidarity.

Politics are another matter.

“As for the city, we’re stuck. I hope there’s some reflection, you know, on KDL’s behalf,” she said, referring to De León by his nickname. “Keep away from the public for a minute. Let us just enjoy our holidays.”

I’ve heard some suggest a change of tactics. Less resistance, more cooperation, particularly when it comes to the work of the City Council. You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results?

Melina Abdullah, leader of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, speaks to activists at Los Angeles City Hall in November.
Melina Abdullah, leader of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, speaks to activists at L.A. City Hall in November about the need for Councilmember Kevin de León to resign. He has yet to do so.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

But Melina Abdullah, leader of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, insists that rather than change tactics, people just need to change their expectations. For this isn’t just a short-term campaign to get rid of De León. It’s a long-term crusade.

“We’re never letting this go until he’s gone,” she told me last week, outside the chapter’s headquarters in Leimert Park. “When somebody brings harm to our people, we don’t let it go.”

Abdullah compared the campaign against De León to the one activists waged against former Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey. They objected to her overall coziness with law enforcement, her refusal to prosecute cops for shooting unarmed people and her reluctance to meet with Black activists.

“It took three and a half years of weekly protests outside her office. Plus, we also had a bird-dog campaign against her. Every time we’d find out where she was, we’d go,” Abdullah explained. “By the time she was running for reelection, she couldn’t win.”

It didn’t help that Lacey’s late husband, David, pointed a gun at Abdullah and two other activists during a predawn protest outside the couple’s Granada Hills home. He was eventually charged with three counts of assault.


Lacey lost to progressive Dist. Atty. George Gascón in 2020.

Abdullah has a similar goal in mind for De León. Through constant provoking and protest — and by inspiring others to join in, like the group at De León’s field office in El Sereno — activists won’t let voters forget that “he’s not a viable candidate. We don’t intend to allow him to ever get another seat in any office.”

About a month ago, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles brought back the bird-dog campaign it used with Lacey, tapping activists from the chapter and host of other allied groups, including People’s City Council, to swarm De León whenever there’s a sighting.

This is what set up the recent showdown in Lincoln Park. Activist Jason Reedy arrived at the tree-lighting event with a few others, and immediately started following De León around an auditorium, loudly calling him racist and telling him to resign.

De León, who had been passing out toys to children in a Santa hat, grabbed Reedy by his collar and shoved him into a table and down a hallway. Reedy punched him. Each man insists he was the victim, not the aggressor.

I’d argue the real victims were the children who started crying and running when they saw the sudden scuffle. The LAPD is investigating.

But I digress.

The point is, Reedy, who is Black, wasn’t some “rogue activist,” Abdullah told me. He was “one of the most committed folks” at the encampment that Black Lives Matter erected outside De León’s house in Eagle Rock.


How many activists will remain as dedicated as Reedy in the years to come remains to be seen. De León’s term isn’t up until 2024.

At the very least, the coming crusade will separate those who really want change at City Hall from those who are more interested in momentary social media fame. It also will test broader public support for using controversial strategies to permanently sideline a politician who, not all that long ago, was widely admired for his various good works.

In interviews over the leaked racist audio, the activist-turned-politician is talking himself into irrelevancy rather than quit the L.A. City Council.

Oct. 27, 2022

A recall election could, theoretically, oust De León sooner. The city clerk has given the go-ahead for a petition to start gathering signatures from registered voters of the 14th Council District, which stretches from skid row downtown to Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno and Eagle Rock.

Only 20,437 valid signatures are needed by March 31. But that won’t be as easy as it sounds, even for someone as despised as De León is citywide, in part because recalls are expensive and also because he has a base of supporters in his district.

In the meantime, members of the City Council must figure out what to do when their meetings resume in January.

Watching the last two, it’s hard not to wonder if the political body is on the verge of imploding — and, in the process, turning into collateral damage the many policies that Bass has in the works to help the neediest Angelenos.


If some council members continue to walk out, refusing as they have been to work with De León, at least they have a noble cause and they’re clear on the message they intend to send.

As Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who is Black and represents parts of South L.A., said shortly after the recording was leaked in October, the racism expressed in it by De León and others is “inconsistent with the city of Los Angeles. It’s not who we want to be.”

Which is why more protests of De León are planned for this week.

And Abdullah promises they won’t quit: “He can expect this for as long as he’s in City Council.”