LOS ANGELES — A loud and violent week in Los Angeles politics has some insiders questioning whether the City Council — the body charged with administering the second-largest U.S. city — remains a safe place to work.
On Friday evening, embattled Councilman Kevin de León was smiling in a Santa hat and handing out gifts to children in Lincoln Park when protesters showed up — cellphone cameras rolling — to loudly denounce him as racist and to demand his resignation.
The group chased de León around the holiday party until one of them, Jason Reedy, came nose-to-nose with the councilman, and a physical altercation ensued. Both sides have filed police reports.
Protesters posted videos to social media showing De León shoving Reedy into a table, and the melee became national news.
On Saturday afternoon, across town at Loyola Marymount University, the swearing-in ceremony of newly elected Councilmember Traci Park was loudly interrupted by protesters who had to be removed by police.
The weekend’s events followed an uproar at Friday’s City Council meeting, where protesters, including Reedy, cursed at De León and engaged in a shouting match with the council member’s supporters. The meeting had to be recessed while Los Angeles Police Department officers filled the room and restored calm.
“This is a work environment,” De León’s spokesman, Pete Brown, said Sunday. “Nobody should be harassed like this, or physically assaulted, at work.”
Reedy has been harassing De León and his staff for years, Brown said.
“He’s a repeat stalker, a serial stalker, and completely unhinged,” Brown said. “Jason Reedy has screamed ‘F— you’ at me and asked if he should come to my house where I live with my wife and three daughters,” Brown said. “I’m worried, as a city employee, wondering who has my back.”
Jennifer Barraza, De León’s chief of staff, also said she no longer feels safe.
“I can’t work like this, and that’s the bottom line,” Barraza said. “None of us can. It’s impossible for us to deliver the services for our constituents that we need to be delivering and do the work that we need to be doing on a day-to-day basis when this is what keeps happening.”
Direct confrontation has been a staple of Los Angeles political life for years, with the public comment period at meetings offering a forum for citizens to vent — not always politely.
Some speakers who rise to address the council offer practical solutions to overlooked problems; many others appear to simply crave a captive audience and a chance to be heard. Profanity is common.
But when COVID-19 shut down public meetings, some L.A. activists took their protests to the streets outside elected officials’ homes.
Since then, the temperature of protests has been rising, reaching a boiling point after the October release of a recording of three City Council members and a prominent labor leader casually exchanging racist comments during a private meeting.
De León, a Democrat, is the only person on that recording who still has his job, despite calls from every level of the party, including President Biden, for his resignation.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Saturday, De León reiterated that he has no plans to resign.
“My commitment is solid to my community, to my constituents,” he said. “I’m not going to let a group of extremely hostile individuals from outside the district bully me or my staff or my constituents.”
Reedy and colleagues in an activist group that calls itself the People’s City Council — which urged Twitter followers to stalk departing Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell until he was “afraid to show his face in public” — are among the most outspoken and determined of De León’s critics.
In an email Sunday, Reedy’s lawyer, Shakeer Rahman, said his client “has only protested public officials at public events open to the public” and “only began protesting De León this February.”
De León has kept a low profile since the release of the racist recording in October. Friday was his first appearance at a City Council meeting in months.
“This is a public official who has been absent from City Council for two months insisting that the public can’t criticize him when he’s on the job,” Rahman wrote.
The protesters who interrupted Park’s swearing-in released a statement over the weekend calling her “a proponent of systemically racist policies” and threatening to make her public life miserable, according to the Mar Vista Voice Twitter account.
“We will be loudly opposing her policies in all public forums throughout her tenure as a council member,” the statement warned, “and we will continue to exercise our first amendment rights no matter how many times her staff and supporters try to physically silence or assault us.”
The increasing acrimony around City Hall is one of many issues — along with chronic homelessness and crime — facing Karen Bass, who was sworn in as mayor on Sunday.
Brown wonders whether the tactics of protesters have pushed matters to the point where council members, like the mayor, need full-time security details.
“I think this is a discussion that the council members are going to have. Councilman De León is not the first to be harassed,” Brown said.
Protesters “will continue to harass and interrupt until they get their way, and that’s just not how democracy works,” Brown said. “You don’t just intimidate people until you get your way.”
(Los Angeles Times staff writers Brittny Mejia, Liam Dillon, Gregory Yee and David Zahniser contributed to this report.)