The president of the local NAACP chapter resigned Thursday amid controversy caused by his plan to honor the now disgraced owner of the L.A. Clippers with a lifetime-achievement award for promoting civil rights.
In a letter of resignation, L.A. chapter President Leon Jenkins wrote, “Please be advised that the legacy, history and reputation of the NAACP is more important to me than the presidency. In order to separate the Los Angeles NAACP and the NAACP from the negative exposure I have caused the NAACP, I respectfully resign my position as president of the Los Angeles NAACP.”
Jenkins and his chapter of the national civil rights organization has come under intense scrutiny the past week over the fact it honored Sterling in 2009, the same year the real estate magnate and L.A. Clippers owner paid $2.73 million to settle U.S. government claims that he refused to rent his apartments to Latinos and blacks in Koreatown.
The group was expected to do so again on May 15, but Jenkins rescinded that offer this week after racist remarks made by the Clippers owner were leaked to the press late last week. However, Jenkins had defended the ties with Sterling, 80, on the basis he was a philanthropist who financially supported the NAACP and other groups, which campaigned for racial and ethnic minorities.
“It’s an insignificant amount of money, and we’re going to return it,” Jenkins said last week in a press conference , adding that the NAACP and Sterling have had a relationship for “maybe 15-20 years.
The former head was criticized for trading the group’s credibility for donations intended to camouflage a billionaire’s racism. An online petition calling on the NAACP to suspend the LA chapter attracted more than 400 signatures.
The NAACP said in its statement Thursday that its national office in Baltimore is developing guidelines to assist branches in their award selection process.
Earlier this week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned the Clippers owner from the NBA for life and fined Sterling $2.5 million. Silver also stated publicly that he wants the league’s board of governors to force Sterling to sell the franchise.
Jenkins had his own legal problems, which also came into focus this week. For years, he has been banned from practicing law in California based on allegations of corruption when he was a young judge in Detroit.
Authorities at the time alleged that Jenkins received gifts from those who appeared in his court and committed perjury, the records show. He was acquitted of criminal charges. But in 1994 the Michigan Supreme Court disbarred him, finding “overwhelming evidence” that Jenkins “sold his office and his public trust,” according to the bar records.
In April, three judges with California’s State Bar Court denied Jenkins’ most recent request to practice law again. The judges lauded Jenkins’ volunteer work with the NAACP and other organizations, but they cited several instances in which they said he misrepresented his finances or other aspects of his personal life, says AP.
On the L.A. NAACP’s website, a biography for Jenkins notes he was “the youngest African American judge to serve in Michigan” but does not mention his legal troubles.