His actions this week raise the question: Does he even want this job?
On Tuesday evening some 30 people, including the editor of this blog, witnessed Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin approach a homeless man who had started a small fire on the corner of Centinela Avenue and Culver Boulevard. The encounter occurred during the councilman’s walking tour of planned changes to Centinela. He stood a couple of feet away and watched silently as the man poured accelerant onto the fire and even stuck his own hand in the flames. After less than thirty seconds Mr. Bonin turned around and walked away without doing anything. He even yelled at a staffer who’d stayed behind out of concern, telling him to get away.
None of these facts are in dispute. The entire encounter was caught on multiple cameras and scores of people have since told their version of the story, all of which have been consistent down to the details. The videos simply capture the scene, nothing more and nothing less. They justifiably went viral. Local radio stations and media picked up the newsworthy story. As of today the videos have been viewed some 20,000 times.
Mr. Bonin had several options in response. He could have taken accountability and acknowledged that he made a mistake, an error in judgment. He could have used the encounter as a learning experience and affirmed that situations like the one on Tuesday are unacceptable in any society, much less on the streets of the richest city in the richest state in the richest country in human history. He could have admitted the myriad shortcomings and failings of his and the City of Los Angeles’s homeless policies to date and promised to be open to creative new solutions. In the process, he could have turned the situation into a political advantage and perhaps won over some skeptics by finally taking a degree of accountability.
It comes as a surprise to few in his district that he did none of those things. Instead, after three full days of silence on the situation he went into full spin mode. He dispatched a staffer to give a quote to a friendly local publication in which he attacked the messengers as “right wing trolls” engaged in a “smear attack.” In the process, he smeared his own constituents for the sin of caring about the trajectory of their neighborhood, community, and city. In deflecting responsibility he turned on the very people he – allegedly – represents. It was a truly pathetic display.
Perhaps the worst part is that five days later Mr. Bonin himself hasn’t had the courage said a word. Instead he’s hidden behind friendly publications and staffers.
Dissecting Mr. Bonin’s dissembling
Here is Mr. Bonin’s spokeman’s statement:
“After the Councilmember became aware that a group of people were filming, mocking and making a spectacle of the obviously unwell man as the Councilmember attempted to speak with him, the Councilmember thought it best to de-escalate the situation and ask his staff to reach out to professionals immediately. Councilmember Bonin’s team connected with LAPD and service providers, who responded to the scene immediately and engaged the man shortly after the Councilmember’s first contact, ensuring the fire was extinguished and no threat to neighbors. Outreach professionals were able to connect with the man and he is already in the process of getting off the street.”
Every single sentence, virtually every single word, is a demonstrable lie.
Lie #1. “After the Councilmember became aware that a group of people were filming, mocking and making a spectacle of the obviously unwell man….” Not a single person mocked nor made a spectacle of the homeless man. People most assuredly mocked and made a spectacle of Mr. Bonin and his shameful response, which under the circumstances was completely justified.
Lie #2. “…as the Councilmember attempted to speak with him….” As the videos show, Mr. Bonin made no effort to speak with the homeless man. He stood silently and watched. Moreover, we have since learned that the homeless man speaks little to no English, so it’s difficult to imagine how the councilman could have communicated with him at all.
Lie #3. “…the Councilmember thought it best to de-escalate the situation….” The situation was not “escalating” in any sense of the word. People only started calling out to Mr. Bonin after he walked away, asking him what he was doing and if he thought it was acceptable for a homeless man to be playing with fire. If anything, Mr. Bonin’s failure to act amplified the situation.
Lie #4. “…and ask his staff to reach out to professionals immediately. Councilmember Bonin’s team connected with LAPD and service providers, who responded to the scene immediately and engaged the man shortly after the Councilmember’s first contact, ensuring the fire was extinguished and no threat to neighbors. Outreach professionals were able to connect with the man and he is already in the process of getting off the street.” This entire statement is false. At the scene Mr. Bonin appeared to yell at a staffer to get away from the homeless man, and he and his team walked away. Moreover, numerous residents visited the scene later that evening and the following day, and the man was still there along with his belongings. A full 24 hours later a resident found him and took a picture of him wielding an enormous hunting knife, Rambo-style.
Indeed, as that resident, Demetrios Mavromichalis, reported on news radio, it wasn’t until he himself went to a nearby police station that the man was finally arrested and taken into custody. There was no evidence – zero – of Mr. Bonin’s claimed outreach, much less of the man “in the process of getting off the street.”
If Mr. Bonin had done the right thing he could have scored a PR victory
Mr. Bonin’s constituents are asking many questions this week, one of which is, “Doesn’t the councilman realize that he could have come out of this situation with a moral and political win?” He could have suspended the Centinela “walk tour” and handled the situation at hand. In the process he would have demonstrated empathy both for the homeless man and the countless residents his behavior threatens. He could have shown leadership and reassured people that he really is the man for the task. Even after walking away, he could have highlighted the encounter on his web page and social media and made a priority of getting the man the help he obviously, desperately needs.
Instead, he went silent for three days until the videos, news, comments, and shares finally overwhelmed him. Then, at 6pm on Thursday evening, his Deputy Chief of Staff attempted damage control. On the councilman’s Facebook page he launched a fusillade against the councilman’s own constituents, accusing them of “exploiting” the situation and “mocking” the homeless man. It was as transparent as it was abhorrent, suggesting that people were berating an obviously distressed individual.
Which raises the question: Project much, Mr. Bonin? YOU are the one who showed a callous disregard for one of the most vulnerable members of our community. All the spin and dissembling won’t change that. The failure of your leadership was on full display this week, and you’re not going to lie your way out of it.
You were elected by barely 14% of the voting-age residents in your district (31,865 out of an adult population of 272,000). You have nothing approaching a mandate, yet you have conducted yourself like the West Side’s own carpetbagging tin pot dictator. The people who took the video, the people who have viewed, shared, and commented on it, are part of the 86% who didn’t vote for you. They are the ones you viciously slandered and attacked. It’s enough to make people wonder whether you really even want this job.
Enjoy the rest of your term while it lasts, Mr. Bonin. L.A. cannot get rid of you fast enough. The vast majority of your constituents, upon whom you have declared open war, will see to it.