LOS ANGELES — The president of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP resigned today, following outrage over a decision he later reversed to give Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling an award for promoting civil rights.
Leon Jenkins was to honor Sterling later this month, but rescinded that offer Monday after a recording surfaced over the weekend on which Sterling disparaged black men.
In a letter to the national leader of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, Jenkins wrote that he resigned “to separate the Los Angeles NAACP and the NAACP from the negative exposure I have caused.”
A telephone message and email seeking comment after business hours from the Los Angeles chapter were not immediately returned.
Even before the recording, the decision to give Sterling a “lifetime achievement award” May 15 at the 100th anniversary celebration of the Los Angeles chapter had been questioned by some civil rights activists, who cited allegations of discrimination in Sterling’s past.
The U.S. Justice Department sued Sterling in August 2006, alleging housing discrimination in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles. In November 2009, Sterling agreed to pay $2.7 million to settle allegations that he refused to rent apartments to Hispanics and blacks.
Also in 2009, the year after Jenkins was first elected president in Los Angeles, the chapter first honored Sterling with a similar achievement award.
Branches of the NAACP — there are more than 50 in California alone — operate with considerable autonomy. In a statement accompanying the resignation announcement, the national NAACP said it is “developing guidelines for its branches to help them in their award selection process.”
Jenkins said that Sterling had been selected owing to his history of donating to minority charities and giving game tickets to inner-city children. The Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation gave $5,000 to the NAACP’s Los Angeles chapter in 2010, according to tax records. There were no further NAACP contributions in subsequent years for which records were available.
After the recording of Sterling having a private conversation with a woman became public, Jenkins backtracked.
“There is a personal, economic and social price that Mr. Sterling must pay for his attempt to turn back the clock on race relations,” he said Monday.
On Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from the league for life, fined the real estate magnate $2.5 million, and said he wanted the league’s board of governors to make Sterling sell the team.
Sterling is the NBA’s longest-tenured owner. He is also among the league’s least successful, though in recent years the Clippers have surged. News of Jenkins’ resignation broke an hour before the Clippers tipped off against the Golden State Warriors in a first-round playoff game.
Reacting to the announcement, local activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson said the NAACP’s Los Angeles chapter needed to become “fully transparent and accountable to its members and community and not to dubious corporate donors.”
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.
In 1988, federal prosecutors charged Jenkins with extortion and racketeering conspiracy, saying he requested and received money, jewelry, a handgun and other gifts to dismiss traffic tickets and other misdemeanors. While Jenkins was acquitted after two trials, in 1991 the Michigan Supreme Court removed him as a judge.
He had “systematically and routinely sold his office and his public trust,” then-Chief Justice Michael Cavanagh said at the time.
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.
“Despite Jenkins’ impressive good character evidence and community service, he continues to commit errors in judgment that call into question his rehabilitation and present good moral character,” the judges wrote.