Editor’s note: The following is a copy of a letter sent to Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs from the plaintiffs’ attorney in the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit against the city.
It was unacceptable that you, as mayor of America’s 98th largest city, remained silent (March 1) when a speaker compared the creation of a majority-Latino electoral district to the concentration of millions of Jews into ghettos by the Nazis during World War II. His speech was interrupted by applause from a well-organized group. He indicated his group had previously made these views known to the City Council, but my clients and other supporters of district elections were surprised and shocked by the attempt to link electoral equality with genocide.
Eighty years before the Constitution recognized racial equality, George Washington spoke out against intolerance. He was acutely aware that Jewish neighborhoods had elected members, such as Francis Salvador, to single-member districts in colonial legislatures. Washington made clear that the privileges and immunities of Jewish citizens required more than mere toleration by officials. He also pledged that the American governments would give bigotry no sanction. You had a similar duty to speak out.
In California, the abolition of single-member districts during the nativist period (1910-1920) was religiously motivated, displacing Jewish and Catholic officials and entrenching wealthy mainstream Protestants. At the time, there were few Black or Latino voters anywhere in California. Asians were almost totally excluded or disenfranchised.
The reference to genocide is offensive to the Black community. For an entire century, local, state and national governments ignored the slaughter of thousands of Black citizens who sought to exercise their rights. The Voting Rights Act was enacted when the murders of Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and Viola Luizzo finally shocked the conscience of the nation. And yet, even after the City Council settled the lawsuit, you continue to criticize compliance with this critical law, which requires the creation of a majority-Latino district.
The bigoted statements you sanctioned last night were utterly irrelevant to the review of proposed district boundaries, which was the exclusive subject of the special meeting. You did not allow members of the Jewish community to respond to this hateful speech, holding that they could not seek recognition once the city concluded its presentation. It fell to our supporters to address this outrage and to use their very limited time trying to return the meeting to its proper topic. As a result, members of religious and ethnic minorities did not receive equal respect at this hearing and may be unwilling to attend the next.
Your failure to speak up brings shame to you and the City Council. Such indifference will not be possible once your colleagues are elected by and equally accountable to every neighborhood in the city.