July 19, 2010

NAACP members 'frustrated and angry' over Downtown report

Update: Another source close to the NAACP called to say Keith Fair did not write the report. It may have been written on Fair's behalf, but he didn't write the actual words on paper.

Original post: Members of the NAACP's Racine branch are "frustrated and angry" over the venerable organization's local leadership.

Several of the members, including some in leadership positions, are questioning local NAACP President Mike Shields' comments in The Journal Times last week about a report alleging city leaders conspired to keep African-American businesses out of Downtown Racine.

Shields told the newspaper the report was meant to start a discussion, and further told the Insider News the organization would stand by the report. But NAACP members, local business owners and political insiders believe the report is an effort by Keith Fair, owner of The Place on Sixth Street bar, to fend off city inquiries into how he manages the bar.

People with knowledge of the Downtown Racine report, titled "Sun City, Sister City or Gaza on Lake Michigan: A Report on the State of Racine's Downtown," said little input was taken from NAACP members or its executive committee, and that it was written and distributed by a small group operating under the organization's name, but without the organization's support.

"No one from the NAACP as an organization wrote it. It was never brought up at a meeting. It was never discussed," an insider said. "It's a rogue thing. It's clear Keith Fair wrote it."

Fair was called before the Common Council's Public Safety and Licensing Committee this week to address incidents at his bar. Fair said he was taking steps to address problems, and the committee voted to formalize those steps by having Fair work out a side agreement with the city attorney to hire Racine police or Racine County sheriff's deputies to manage crowds. They also asked him to address capacity and come up with a dress code.

The NAACP report that was released last week on RacinePost and the Insider News was an emotional attack on city leaders for failing to attract and support minority-owned businesses in Downtown Racine.

"After investigation, and talks with both Downtown officers and officials within the Racine Police Department, it has become clear to the NAACP that a good downtown Racine is viewed as a white downtown," according to the NAACP report. (Read it here.)

That viewpoint is not shared by many members of the NAACP, according to people in the organization. One member said NAACP President Mike Shields lied to The Journal Times about the report and how it was written. While Shields, Fair and NAACP Community Coordinator Craig Oliver may technically have been a committee behind the report, it was a select group that never sought the input or support of the organization's executive committee. Instead, they simply released the report under the NAACP name to local leaders.

The report was met with a wave of criticism and opposition that was compounded by the NAACP's lack of a response. Shields canceled an emergency meeting of the organization this week and, until last week's JT story, did not release a comment. Rank-and-file members, including long-time supporters of the NAACP, said they're upset about the report, but don't feel Shields and Fair, who is an officer with the organization, are taking their concerns seriously.

"The truth is this has nothing to do with the NAACP," a member said. "It's about Keith Fair protecting his bar."

"People are just giving up," they added. "People can't take the fighting anymore. They're tired and intimidated. It's a shame."

"The NAACP's reputation is being ruined for whatever gain. This is terribly, terribly damaging to the organization."