Column: Jeering, screaming and upending the City Council is arrogant and ineffective

Police put handcuffs on a protester as TV cameras record the scene.
A protester is placed in handcuffs after refusing a Los Angeles Police Department order to leave a Los Angeles City Council meeting in 2019.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

I shouldn’t have to say this, but it is presumptuous and irresponsible to disrupt and obstruct the Los Angeles City Council in an effort to get your way.

Coming to council meetings just to shout, jeer and drown out the proceedings is arrogant and wrong.

Yet that’s what’s been happening at City Council meetings since the leak of a taped conversation among council members that included racist comments and political scheming. Protesters have crowded the council chamber, loudly demanding the resignation of those implicated by the recording.

I understand that people are angry. I agree that Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo should step down because of their leaked remarks. And if protesters want to hand out leaflets saying so, or talk about it during the council meeting public comment periods, or bellow it from the City Hall steps — fine.

Opinion Columnist

Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg served 11 years as editor of the editorial page and is a former editor of the Op-Ed page and Sunday Opinion section.

But making such a ruckus that the council has to struggle to do its official business is a form of bullying, and another sign of the decline of the democratic process.

At the most recent meeting on Tuesday, protesters using noisemakers and bullhorns were removed by LAPD officers. At the meeting a week earlier, The Times described a scene of “deafening,” nonstop protest. Shouts of “shame on you” and calls for the ouster of De León and Cedillo made it impossible to hear anything else. Amid chants of “No resignations, no meetings,” council members plowed through their work only by wearing earbuds that allowed them to hear each other while drowning out the public cacophony.

And that was an improvement over the first meeting after the tape leaked, where the overflow crowd was so unruly that De León and Cedillo were forced to leave the room. (They haven’t been back.)

This is helping no one.

“If a City Council meeting is obstructed, its work doesn’t get done,” said City Atty. Mike Feuer. “A community center may not open, a vital project for the homeless may not go forward, overtime may not be approved for police officers, victims of human trafficking might not get services they need.”


A leaked recording of L.A. City Council members and a labor official includes racist remarks. Council President Nury Martinez apologizes; Councilmember Kevin de León expresses regret.

Oct. 9, 2022

On some level, I understand the appeal of this kind of disruption. Activists feel that no meaningful change gets made by being polite. Civility, they believe, is a sucker’s game. Plus, they believe their cause is so important that pursuing it is worth holding up everything else.

Unfortunately, lots of other people feel that way about their issues too. Such as the hundreds of people in Dearborn, Mich., who shut down a local school board meeting last week as they denounced books with LGBTQ content. Like the L.A. crew, those activists believed doing anything other than what they wanted done was intolerable.

Or the “unruly” anti-vaxxers in New Hampshire whose antics forced the governor to cancel a meeting of the state executive council last year.

Disruption and obstruction have become familiar tactics in L.A. In August, scores of protesters at a City Council meeting objected vehemently to the enforcement of a law they said criminalized homelessness. A recess had to be called; protesters were ejected; others were arrested and charged with misdemeanors.

Los Angeles Police Commission meetings have been a scene of regular disruptions — “raucous weekly spectacles,” as The Times put it — by activists protesting excessive force by police.

De León clearly believes that if he can ride out the immediate political maelstrom, life might go back to normal

Oct. 26, 2022

In 2020, I attended a debate between candidates for L.A. district attorney. It was interrupted repeatedly by people clamoring that “Jackie Lacey must go.” Several protesters rushed the stage. Some were ejected. The disruptions prevented Lacey, then the D.A., from effectively defending her record, but it also stopped her opponents from criticizing her. It was a disrespectful mess that served democracy badly, silenced the candidates and shortchanged the voters.

These kinds of protests silence the voices of others and persuade no one. It is through debate and deliberation — which they prevent — that rational policy gets made.


But in the era of Trump, and in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, in the nuttiness of pandemic politics, too many people on both the right and the left have rejected the idea that other points of view deserve to be heard.

There are times when radical tactics are justified. Civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks challenged a moral evil so enormous and entrenched that they were left with no choice but to violate unjust Jim Crow laws. The disruptive tactics of Act Up are credited with changing government attitudes toward AIDS in the late 1980s.

But when it comes to the City Hall tape scandal, L.A.’s protesters in the last few weeks are making the wrong cost-benefit calculation.

It’s relatively easy to launch a recall attempt in California, but actually triggering an election is far more difficult. Most attempted recalls fail to make it to the ballot.

Oct. 27, 2022

They are obstructing a governing body that overwhelmingly agrees with them that De León and Cedillo should resign. The City Council has even formally rebuked the two members by a vote of 12 to 0.

Furthermore, the disruptions have been caused by a relatively small but insistent group of people. Although many Angelenos obviously agree that the two council members should resign, I have seen no sign that there is broad, citywide support for the disruptive tactics.

Free speech is a fundamental right and peaceful protest deserves robust protection. As City Council President Paul Krekorian noted gamely: “This is the nature of democracy. Sometimes it’s messy.”

But when a relatively small band of outraged activists obstructs a government serving 4 million city residents, it risks being dismissed as a group of irresponsible fringe players. These protesters need to find a better approach.