The Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is drawing criticism this week for its relationship with L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was captured on a recording making racist comments.
The civil rights group has drawn particular criticism for its lukewarm response to the scandal, with some questioning whether the group has gone easy on him due to his donations to the group.
Leon Jenkins, the chapter president of the Los Angeles NAACP, held a press conference on Monday that semi-addressed the growing scandal. During the conference, Jenkins suggested that the organization would be open to working with Sterling again, should he choose to make amends for his racist practices.
“There is a personal, economical and social price that Mr. Sterling must pay for his attempt to turn on racial relations,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins also cast doubt on whether the recent reports of the team owner’s recent racist comments were accurate, categorizing the reports as “rumors.” “We don’t deal in rumors, guys … Rumors about someone’s character is not something that we deal with,” Jenkins said.
On Tuesday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver confirmed that Sterling is the voice heard in the recording.
Jenkins’ seeming kid-gloves treatment of Sterling — who has been accused of racist behavior in the past — assumes a questionable air given Sterling’s relationship with the organization.
Business Insider reports that Sterling has donated to the organization in the past and, in 2009 — the same year that Sterling settled a lawsuit alleging that he had frozen a former employee’s salary due to his race — bestowed Sterling with a lifetime achievement award.
Sterling’s organization, the Donald T. Sterling Foundation, granted the NAACP $5,000 in 2010 and the foundation listed Jenkins as a recipient at its 2013 awards luncheon, Business Insider reported.
During the press conference, Jenkins said that the Los Angeles NAACP will return donations that Sterling had recently made. Jenkins declined to put a dollar amount on the donations, only saying that it was “not a significant amount.”
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles chapter of NAACP (not to be confused with the Hollywood, Image Awards-producing chapter) has decided not to give Sterling a second lifetime achievement award.
Even so, despite being “strongly urged” by the national NAACP to rescind the previous award bestowed to Sterling, Jenkins said that the organization wouldn’t be doing so, telling a reporter, “This is not a Heisman Trophy, dude,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
And some are questioning why the Los Angeles NAACP has maintained its relationship with Sterling, given his long-standing alleged racist streak.
“The NAACP airbrushed this away and simply said that Sterling has been a gem in giving oodles of tickets away to needy inner city kids and ladling out some cash to charities and sports camps for them,” community activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote when the organization gave Sterling the 2009 award.
Occidental College professor Peter Drier went so far as to accuse the Los Angeles NAACP of engaging in a quid-pro-quo relationship with Sterling in an email to TPM.
“The only explanation is that these awards were repayment quid-pro-quos for Sterling’s contributions to the NAACP,” Drier said in the email.
The reaction on Twitter has been similarly damning.
The NAACP LA chapter is NOT looking good right now. They’re on TV giving the most bootleg press conf about Donald Sterling.
— britni danielle (@BritniDWrites) April 28, 2014
“The NAACP LA chapter is NOT looking good right now,” author Britni Danielle wrote in reaction to the organization’s Monday press conference. “They’re on TV giving the most bootleg press conf about Donald Sterling.”
Roland Martin, host of TV One’s “NewsOne Now” said that it’s not particularly surprising that the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP has maintained its relationship with Sterling.
“Lorraine Miller, the interim CEO of the national NAACP said something that’s important. And that is, when you’re dealing with chapters, you’re dealing with volunteer members,” Martin told TheWrap on Tuesday. “It’s one of those things that, it’s not shocking. To be honest, you can go to a lot of cities where you have organizations that are involved with philanthropy and charity organizations with individuals who own companies that all of a sudden, you hear something and you go, ‘Wait a minute, how in the world would they do business with that individual?’ So it happens, and I get it.”
Even so, he noted, the organization left itself open for criticism with its now-dashed plan to give Sterling a lifetime achievement award next month.
“The real criticism that I’ve been hearing from a lot of people is, ‘OK, here’s a guy, you gave him a lifetime achievement award in 2009, what in the hell are you doing giving him another one five years later?'” Martin noted. “Just because somebody is writing a check it, doesn’t mean that you honor them publicly. Because when you honor someone publicly, what you’re doing is, you’re putting a stamp of approval on what they’re doing.”
The real issue, Martin said, is whether Sterling has done anything beyond opening his wallet to get himself into the NAACP’s good graces.
“You can’t just write a check. You have to demonstrate that you have turned a new leaf, and it goes beyond that,” Martin said. “I would really want to know from the LA NAACP, what did he do? Other than writing a check, what he do?”
At any rate, Sterling might be in less of a position to make donations to the group in the future. The Clippers have seen a host of sponsors pull out since the scandal over Sterling’s most recent comments broke. The NBA, meanwhile, levied a $2.5 million fine and banned Sterling for life. Silver added that he is urging the league’s Board of Governors to vote to force Sterling to sell the team.
The Los Angeles chapter of NAACP has not yet responded to TheWrap’s request for comment.