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LA NAACP head resigns over move to honor Sterling

May 2, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The president of the Los Angeles chapter of an African-American rights group has resigned following outrage over a decision he later reversed to give an award for promoting civil rights to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who this week was banned for life by the NBA after a recording surfaced on which he disparaged black men.

The NAACP’s Los Angeles chapter was to honor Sterling later this month, but Leon Jenkins rescinded that offer Monday after the recording made headlines over the weekend.

In a letter to the national leader of America’s oldest civil rights organization, Jenkins wrote that he resigned Thursday “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.

In the three games played since the news broke, the Clippers have won just one and lost two. After dropping Thursday night’s game, 100-99, in Oakland they will face the Warriors in a seventh and final game on Saturday in Los Angeles. It will determine which team advances to the second round of the post-season playoffs.

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.

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Associated Press writer Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report

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Contact Justin Pritchard at https://twitter.com/lalanewsman

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