“You stole our vote” was the chant from a crowd of fifty Tenth council district residents, members of the faith community and supporters of suspended City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas to members of the L.A. City Council as they approached the parking entrance at City Hall in advance of the council meeting.
Councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Curren Price and Mike Bonin were cheered as the entered the parking structure following their support of Ridley-Thomas, who was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and who has since pled not guilty to all of the charges.
“We’re gathered because we are outraged and disillusioned by the vote of the city council last week and we felt that we needed to say something to express our disdain,” said Pastor Norman Johnson of First New Christian Fellowship Baptist Church. “Suspending Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas disenfranchised his district and empowered the City Controller to withhold his salary and benefits and he has a momentous struggle ahead of him. To do that is just unconscionable.
“We want him to have his day in court,” Johnson continued. “We do not want him tried in the media. We do not want them to appeal to the court of public opinion. That’s all we’re seeking.”
Rev. K.W. Tulloss described the suspension as a “political hit job.’
“It’s ironic that Nury Martinez, who introduced the motion— wasn’t suspended when she was under investigation,” he said. “And Kevin de Leon was named in an FBI probe investigating whether or not he violated campaign rules several years ago.
“As Rev. James Lawson has said, there are some racial overtones to what’s happening here.”
SCLC President and Pastor William Smart —who lives in the Tenth District—agreed.
“The city council was wrong and we’ve here to declare that we’re not going to take this. The city council acted too fast. They’ve pre-judged and they disrespected our district,” Smart said.
“After 30 years of service, you don’t treat someone like this. You let them have their day in court.”
Pastor Welton Pleasant—who as president of the California State Baptist Convention, represents churches in the Tenth District—viewed the action taken by the city council as a form of voter suppression.
“Our vote has been disenfranchised through this process and it’s not fair to the citizens of District 10. America’s hallmark of democracy is the presumption of innocence,” Pleasant noted. “He has not been found guilty of anything so where is the presumption of innocence? It’s unfair that the City Council would rush to judgement and take away his right to make a living and we can’t let that stand.”
Charles Johnson, senior pastor of the Cochran Avenue Baptist, rallied not only in solidarity but out of concern for the lack of representation in his district.
“Our entire church community is up in arms,” Johnson reported. “We have so many extenuating conditions and situations that require attention right now, and it’s unfair that as of this moment, we are unrepresented. That should never happen in this city.
“Sure they can appoint someone to temporarily take over, but my vote is my voice,” he continued. “We don’t want a puppet leader. We deserve the right to choose who represents us and our choice is Mark Ridley-Thomas.”
Tulloss indicated that the rally was the start of a bigger campaign to come.
“The people who are gathered here today represent a mere fraction of the people who support Mark Ridley-Thomas; who are concerned about having their needs addressed and who are angered by a rush to judgement and their disenfranchisement as voters,” Tulloss said. “We’re here to put everyone on notice that our desire to expose an unjust action taken by the city council does not end here. It has only just begun.”