When I was told that Councilmember Kevin de León was involved with the square dedication for Willis O. Tyler, the Black attorney who won the landmark case that made adding racial covenants to block Black people from living in white neighborhoods in California illegal, the irony wasn’t lost on me.
I am one of the many Black Angelenos who still believe that he should not be on the city council after audio was leaked last year of him participating in a conversation where racist and disparaging comments were made about Black people, among others. And to be fair, my beef with de León extends long before that. He took a lot of money from Ed Buck, a white Democratic donor sitting in prison right now for causing the meth overdose deaths of two Black men. For years de León dodged the issue and talked around why he didn’t return the money to the fund set up to support Buck’s victims.
Let me say from the start that I didn’t want to go to Monday’s unveiling. I did not want to grace Kevin de León with my presence, nor did I want my presence to be seen as a validation of his apology tour. He doesn’t deserve it and didn’t want him to think for one moment that we were cool and all was forgiven — because we are not and it has not been.
No matter my personal feelings about de León, because I worked with one of the attorneys involved, I had to go.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!
The Willis O. Tyler Square at 2nd and Spring streets is the first square to be named after a Black person in downtown Los Angeles. It’s an incredible honor for the late Mr. Tyler, his friends and family, but equally important to this city’s Black community where it seems that the only areas boasting an increasing Black population are ones that encompass and include Skid Row in downtown.
Unfortunately, Tyler’s former office at 2nd and Spring streets is in de León’s district. It is what it is.
Do we not recognize and honor Tyler and his work because we don’t like the councilmember whose district it’s happening in?
In this life a huge part of adulting is having to do things we don’t necessarily want to do and sometimes being in uncomfortable positions. I am a public affairs consultant and a lot of times in my work I have to put my own personal feelings aside and look at the bigger picture. Besides, I know all too well that self-employed Black women don’t always have the luxury of saying no, even when we want to.
I think I am good at what I do and I don’t have a history of randomly attacking people in public and that wasn’t going to change today with de León. I think some of his staff expected that, but that’s just part of the same angry Black woman stereotype and racial trope put on Black women with strong opinions. Just because I don’t like you doesn’t mean that I am going to embarrass myself by cussing you out in public.
I went and I made sure that I was never close enough to de León to be caught in a photo with him, well at least tried to. Fingers crossed. But I can tell you that there will be no photos of Jasmyne smiling standing next to de León.
While de León was speaking and I was keeping my picture perfect poker face, I was reminded of a conversation I had earlier with someone about forgiveness. I found myself looking at de León and asking myself if I ever thought I could forgive him for what he did.
I don’t know, maybe. I have done things I am not proud of in my life, thankfully it didn’t amount to a national news story. I have asked for and earned forgiveness from others more than once and will probably have to again in the future.
It’s true that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. But we can be hurt, disappointed, and angry.
For me, some things are unforgivable. Most murders, for example.
Being an arrogant racist jerk — I guess that’s forgivable if you somehow prove that you are no longer an arrogant racist jerk which means making amends and acknowledging what you did.
Kevin has a long way to go before that happens with me. In fact, he hasn’t even hit the road yet and is still sitting in the parking lot with the car idling as far as I’m concerned.
I still want Kevin de León off the city council, but I appreciate him agreeing to support the Willis O. Tyler Square and to thank his staff who really did all of the work.
2nd and Spring streets is now officially the Willis O. Tyler Square.
Was the scenario perfect? No. But is having the square good? Yes.
For Kevin, I guess it’s a start.
Based in Los Angeles, Jasmyne Cannick is a Gen X award-winning journalist and on-air contributor from SoCal. She writes and talks about the collisions at the intersection of politics, race, and social issues.