Racist comments uttered at San Bernardino council meeting: Did city take too long to apologize?

San Bernardino officials apologized to the community this week after two men called into a City Council meeting last week via a videoconferencing platform and hurled racist comments at a Black woman.

The incident took place Wednesday, when the City Council was taking public comment about whether to hire Charles Montoya as city manager. Some residents were giving public testimony in person at the council chambers and others spoke from remote locations through the city's Zoom platform.

Amy Malone was one of several people who spoke out against hiring Montoya, joining other residents who complained that Montoya's job history includes misconduct allegations from a previous employer.

"When you look at his track record, you would not hire him for your own personal business," Malone said from the lectern at the meeting.

That's when the racist comments blared into the room via Zoom, booming over Malone's voice.

“Somebody shut this b— up. … Go home, you b—. Go back to Africa if you don’t like it,” the unidentified men said. They also hurled the N-word before their audio was cut off. A version of the council meeting is posted to the city's YouTube channel, but the men's comments have been muted.

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Malone said she was shocked when the incident happened but was more surprised by how slow the city was to issue a statement or reach out to her. The city issued a formal apology two days after the meeting, but Malone feels that delay speaks volumes about the city's priorities.

"I feel that they're much too late," Malone said when reached by phone Tuesday. "Once I said something then they had to respond. It was not out of concern. It was not showing a strong hand against what happened. It was not standing with me as a resident or with the residents that were affected and offended by what was said. They took a very lackadaisical stance until they were pushed into to a corner."

The San Bernardino Police Department has collected the IP addresses of the men who made the racist comments and is investigating the incident as a misdemeanor offense. In a statement, the city said it is reviewing its remote comment process to make sure this can't happen again. The city and Mayor Helen Tran did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.

The council voted that night to hire Montoya, despite the opposition.

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When the racist comments were made at Malone last week, Mayor Pro Tem Fred Shorett put his hand up and asked her to wait while city staff tried to figure out what happened. She felt that the way it was handled was offensive and demanded an apology.

"You should be appalled at what just happened," Malone told the City Council that night.

Shorett stammered, saying "I'm sorry, yes. I'm sorry. I’m sorry, that should not have happened, and I don’t know how it did."

He continued: "I don't have any control over that, and certainly that is inappropriate, I couldn't agree with you more.”

Malone responded, saying "Thank you. So, to me that should have been the first thing said to every African American in this place. Everybody. It is not just a 'me' thing."

San Bernardino issued a formal statement two days later and on Monday evening city officials and faith-based leaders met outside city hall to denounce the comments and promised the community that racism would not define the city.

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"Anyone who heard what was said, it was offensive and unacceptable," Mayor Tran said at the event. "Last Wednesday does not define us as a city. That is not who we are. Tonight, we stand together as a united community, because hateful comments by two individuals are not a reflection of what the city of San Bernardino is or what we stand for."

Malone said she did not attend the event because city officials did not directly invite her. In the days since the council meeting, Malone said she has read online comments that called her "entitled" after she asked for an apology, which she feels is acceptable given the circumstances.

"I'm entitled to every bit of that. Because as long as I pay my taxes in this this city, as long as I'm a resident of the city, I'm entitled to speak, feel safe and feel protected and to feel respected," Malone said.

She said she doesn't believe that San Bernardino is racist, adding that people from different ethnic backgrounds have approached her to offer their support .

"Those were racist people who spoke and there will always be racist people. You can't get rid of them," she said.

The whole experience has not discouraged Malone from speaking at future City Council meetings.

"If anything, it made me more determined to speak out because now I can clearly see things that I could not see before," Malone said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.