Several people who called into the most-recent Hermosa Beach City Council meeting during the public comments section made racist and antisemitic remarks — which the town’s elected officials denounced.
The city will now look into ways to prevent hate speech during public meetings, according to staffers.
It was unclear why the callers chose this meeting to deliver hateful remarks or if they were coordinated, but such instances have become a concerning trend nationwide in recent years, experts say.
The first caller during last week’s meeting said he was part of an organization that wanted to “donate 6 million bars of soap to the homeless in the greater Los Angeles area,” and in a “kosher manner.”
He continued by saying the soap is made through science “adopted from Germany.”
The caller went on to describe using as a Jewish person to make soap — before Mayor Raymond Jackson interrupted him and asked for him to be cut off.
The next caller identified himself as “George Lincoln Rockwell,” who in the late 1950s was the founder of the American Nazi Party and to this day is a white supremacist influencer and inspiration.
A few more callers, including one who used a racial slur, attempted to utter “filth,” as Jackson described it later in the meeting. The City Council then went to a break.
“We’ve got a lot of keyboard cowboys and a lot of cowards who like to hide behind the keyboard,” Jackson said. “You’re certainly welcome to stand in front of us and say what you have to say, but it’s certainly easy to hide behind the keyboard and some fake name to spew your filth.”
There are several ways to address the council during public meetings including written comments, e-comments and in-person comments.
The Hermosa council and staffers, meanwhile, decried the remarks that occurred during the Tuesday, Sept. 26, council meeting, while also affirming the First Amendment rights of the speakers.
Even though the comments were “heinous (and) vile,” City Attorney Patrick Donegan said, the “First Amendment does exist.”
Donegan said he wanted to be sure that “there’s no valid public comments out there still waiting to be heard.”
The city, though, needed to look into its options, Councilmember Mike Detoy said, “either get rid of a Zoom option for public participation or look at software to help screen a little bit better.”
Councilmember Rob Saemann agreed with Detoy — but was not in favor of eliminating a Zoom option for public comments.
“In light of this evening’s debauchery,” Saemann said, “I am fully in favor of some sort of a filtering system or 10 second delay.”
Councilmember Justin Massey also said the city should evaluate what can and should be done to prevent hate speech at public meetings.
The city could have a “pretty clear basis” in limiting that kind of speech,” Massey said.
“I don’t think that violates anybody’s right,” he said, “because I don’t think we’re obligated as part of our business meetings to give anybody a soapbox to say whatever they want unrelated to city business, including repugnant stuff like that.”
Donegan and City Manager Suja Lowenthal said they could return to a future City Council meeting after researching the city’s options.
“We can vet what took place,” Lowenthal said, “what other cities have done and what are options are and we can report back.”.
The city as a whole, meanwhile, condemned the remarks in a Friday press release.
“Hermosa Beach condemns racism, antisemitism and bigotry in all forms,” the city said. “Hate will never have a home here.
“The anonymity of the speakers is evidence of their cowardice.”
The city also touted the diversity of its employees and the community.
“Our city staff is comprised of team members from diverse backgrounds,” the statement said. “We pride ourselves on unity through diversity, and we cherish the welcoming community we serve.”
Donegan, for his part, said Hermosa must balance the First Amendment with ensuring the government’s public business can get done.
“Like many Cities, the City of Hermosa Beach has unfortunately received racist comments and correspondence in the past,” Donegan wrote in a Friday email. “We take these incidents seriously, document them and work to address them promptly. Our commitment remains firm in creating an inclusive and discrimination-free community.
“Coordinated attacks meant solely to disrupt the meeting via antisemitic, racist or other bigoted vitriol will not be tolerated,” he added. “Consistent with the city’s responsibility to ensure all can express their viewpoints to their city government on germane matters, speakers who comment in a way meant to disrupt the meeting and on matters not in the city’s purview will be cut off.”