Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s former chief of staff told colleagues she found a local Black Lives Matter chapter "annoying," disputed the meaning of "structural racism,” and disparaged a newly appointed civilian police commissioner who worked with the activists, according to private emails from 2016 and 2017 obtained by VICE News.
Garcetti, whom President Biden recently nominated as ambassador to India, is referenced and copied on several of the emails, although he doesn’t participate.
In one message from October 2016, Ana Guerrero, Garcetti’s chief of staff at the time, was irritated over the praise the mayor was receiving after declaring LA a sanctuary city, where law enforcement won’t alert the feds to the presence of undocumented immigrants.
“I am getting annoyed by all the lefties who are making that their fucking issue of the day. Not as annoying as BLM, but getting close,” she wrote in an email to the former chief of the Office of Immigrant Affairs after watching a video of the mayor agreeing with a protester.
In another email on Sept. 12, 2016, Guerrero also criticized the new civilian police commissioner's ties to BLM on the day of her nomination, as well as her use of the phrase “structural racism.” Guerrero wrote that by using the term, “they are calling us… racists.”
In a message to two other senior members of Garcetti’s office, Guerrero said the commissioner had created an “unnecessary headache” for the mayor’s office and joked that she should now meet with the police union.
“He [Garcetti] didn't like that she referred positively to BLM,” she wrote. “He sort of jokingly said her first meeting should be with PPL [Los Angeles Police Protective League].
“While I have been an advocate for her to be our next appointee to police, I will humbly admit I never anticipated that she would be this time-consuming. She was super low maintenance… and behaved as all former staffers turned commissioners do—like a loyal soldier. Very naive on my part.”
In June 2021, Guerrero was placed on administrative leave after calling labor icon Dolores Huerta a Spanish term that translates to “jealous old lady” and writing “I hate her” on a private Facebook group. Other city officials were mocked by the group too. In a statement, Guerrero said her comments were “offensive and wrong” and that she “wanted to apologize to my colleagues at City Hall and anyone who looks up to and depends on me to set an example for leadership.” Guerrero returned to Garcetti’s office as a strategic adviser in November with no change to her $248,000 yearly salary.
The emails, sent between 2016 and 2017, show long-standing disdain for the Black Lives Matter movement inside the mayor’s office dating back to its early years, an opinion critics maintain has persisted throughout Garcetti’s two terms. Besides Guerrero, Rich Llewellyn, then chief counsel to the mayor, and other senior staffers were also present on the emails.
Since his election in 2013, Garcetti, a Democrat, has offered limited comments on rising police violence and met only once with the local Black Lives Matter chapter, which has advocated for independent investigations into police killings. In 2015, Garcetti was caught on video rolling up his car window on activists on the eve of a police commission ruling over the high-profile shooting of a mentally ill man.
Even now, the LA mayor didn’t comment on the death of 14-year-old Valentina Orellana Peralta until asked to. Peralta and 24-year-old Daniel Eleana Lopez were shot by an LAPD officer inside a Burlington store two days before Christmas. That same week alone, four others died at the hands of the LAPD.
Several of the emails also violate a 2017 city directive requiring work to be conducted on city email servers, city employees confirmed to VICE News.
“This is one of the most emotionally charged and sensitive issues we face, and there have been painful moments of disagreement that have included situations where our staff were verbally attacked in person and online while doing their jobs,” Garcetti's office said in a statement provided to VICE News. “If there are comments that shouldn’t have been made by current staff, we will address those internally, and we will continue pushing forward with bold action to make LA more just and equitable for everyone.”
“The mayor and his staff have always approached the conversation about racial justice thoughtfully with a goal of bringing people together to make change. This is one of the most emotionally charged and sensitive issues we face, and there have been painful moments of disagreement that have included situations where our staff were verbally attacked in person and online while doing their jobs. Those deeply personal and difficult moments have not deterred us from pursuing an unprecedented justice agenda that includes millions invested in reimagining public safety, a commission on reparations, and a participatory budgeting pilot that specifically confronts the legacy of institutional racism in our city. If there are comments that shouldn’t have been made by current staff, we will address those internally, and we will continue pushing forward with bold action to make LA more just and equitable for everyone.”
Guerrero and Llewellyn were not immediately available for comment.
On Sept.12, 2016, Shane Murphy Goldsmith, a newly nominated police commissioner, sent out a press release celebrating the announcement from the nonprofit Liberty Hill, of which she is president and CEO. She wrote: “Together with many of Liberty Hill's grantees, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought attention and urgency to the issues of structural racism and systemic failures of the criminal justice system.”
Later that day, Guerrero wrote: “I clearly have not communicated clearly enough to Shane that when a left refers to "structural racism" they are calling us (as in commissioners, COF’s [chief of staff’s], etc.) racists.”
In another email on Oct. 6, 2016, Guerrero celebrated the release of closed-circuit television footage showing the seconds leading up to the shooting of 18-year-old Carnell Snell Jr., which prompted a wave of protests in the city. Snell was a passenger in the backseat of a car pursued by LAPD. When he exited the car, officers said they saw him holding a gun and chased him to a driveway where they shot and killed him.
Guerrero thought the video, which showed Snell tucking what appeared to be a gun into his waistband and fleeing from an LAPD officer, would blow back on BLM, which continued to call for disciplinary action against the officers. Just because Snell was seen carrying a gun, the group argued, did not mean he had pointed it at police.
“I think the video, along with the statements made by BLM members since… have given more reasonable people permission to express disappointment with the BLM movement,” Guerrero wrote.
Two weeks later, BLM activists attended a town hall held to discuss the shooting where District Attorney Jackie Lacey was scheduled to speak. The group shouted each time Lacey took the microphone, prompting her to leave. In an email on Oct. 16 regarding the incident, Llewellyn wrote, “Look at that. Protesting AfAms only good. Although the comment is ambiguous, a source/sources told VICE News they understood the comment to mean Llewellyn was suggesting African Americans being protested was good.
The emails convey the office’s annoyance with the city’s BLM chapter as it gained more prominent supporters in the early years of the movement. In response to a message on Nov. 28, 2016, about the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) holding a protest in conjunction with BLM, Guerrero wrote to Llewellyn and other top aides: “This is very, very annoying.”
And when a tweet promoting a protest organized by a coalition of groups, including BLM and the American Civil Liberties Union, was sent via email in May 2017, Guerrero responded that the “ACLU is losing its way.”
In a statement to VICE News, Victor Leung, director of education equity of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California said, “We’ve been immensely proud to partner with BLM, Students Deserve, youth leaders, and many others on the campaign to end random student searches, which eventually became LAUSD policy.”
Garcetti’s staff didn’t limit their commentary to emails either. A 2017 Instagram story shared with VICE News shows Jeff Gorell, the deputy mayor of public safety, sitting on a wall decorated with graffiti. Gorell captioned it, “Pondering ways to lift myself out of the hood.”
The ideology behind the emails and the post were troubling to activists.
“The idea that any elected official would take the time to berate and denigrate Black leadership versus listen to and lift up Black leadership is not just disappointing but dangerous,” said Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter.
“Essentially what we've been saying among Black Lives Matter organizers is that these are rubber-stamp bodies,” said Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of BLM-LA. They're supposed to represent the residents of Los Angeles rather than be a rubber-stamp body for either LAPD or the mayor.”
The LAPD has a well-documented history of discrimination, corruption, and police brutality. In 2021, LAPD officers shot 37 people and 18 people died, making it so far one of the most lethal U.S. departments last year. Following days of protest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, the LAPD used improper force against peaceful protesters and unlawfully detained thousands of demonstrators, according to an independent report commissioned by the city council and released in September 2021. Several journalists were shot with so-called less lethal munitions.
Garcetti’s office is also no stranger to controversy. He faced calls to fire LAPD Chief Michel Moore after he said the death of Floyd was on the "hands" of those inciting criminal acts at protests as much as the officers involved in Minneapolis. Garcetti defended Moore, saying, “I’ve known his heart for decades.” Moore later apologized, saying, “I regret the remarks of that characterization, but I don’t regret, nor will I apologize to those out there today committing violence, destroying lives and livelihoods, and creating this destruction.”
In July 2020, an LAPD officer on the mayor’s security detail sued the city alleging he was sexually harassed and assault by Rick Jacobs, a former executive vice mayor and deputy chief of staff, for years while Garcetti knew and did nothing. Naomi Seligman, former director of communications for Garcetti’s office, also reported Jacobs forcibly kissing her in 2016.
In a statement provided to reporters, Garcetti’s office said, “As the Mayor has said repeatedly and under oath, he absolutely did not witness and was not aware of any sexual harassment by Mr. Jacobs, and if he were, he would have put a stop to it. These claims were false the first time they were alleged more than a year ago, and they’re just as false today.”
Garcetti’s wife, Amy Wakeland, notified the family’s security detail within the LAPD 80 times about protestors outside the mayor’s mansion, including BLM, between March and December of 2020. Wakeland told the Los Angeles Times she notified police when the couple’s 9-year-old daughter could not finish her homework or get to sleep.
So far, however, Garcetti has glided through congressional hearings and awaits a full Senate vote confirmation this week.
Garcetti’s mayoral term technically ends in December 2022, but if and when he resigns to become the U.S. ambassador to India, LA City Council President Nury Martinez will step in as acting mayor. The city council will then have the choice to appoint an interim mayor or call for a special election. But with the primary in June 2022, the high cost of a special election likely won’t be a burden they want to take on.
Cullors hopes that mayoral candidates like Democratic Rep. Karen Bass sit and meet with progressive groups like BLM-LA.
“It's those group's policy recommendations that have changed the very nature of Los Angeles that has gotten us closer to a Los Angeles that is dedicated to the care of its communities,” she said.
CORRECTION 1/24: The text has been changed to clarify the nature of Amy Wakeland’s notifications about protesters outside the mayor’s mansion. We regret the error.
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.