National, state NAACP asked to probe local leadership

Twenty NAACP members request immediate suspension of president, vice president

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THURSDAY, April 22 — At least 20 members of the Lansing branch of the NAACP have demanded that President Dale Copedge and Vice President Randy Watkins be suspended, investigated and possibly removed from their leadership positions, sources have told City Pulse.

In a Feb. 19 letter to executives of the NAACP’s national and state organizations, the members complained that Copedge and Watkins do not “seem to understand the NAACP charge” and have largely served as “roadblocks” to advocacy efforts on several issues related to racial discrimination and social equity in the Capital City. And as a result, the members have submitted a vote of “no confidence” against Watkins and Copedge and requested they both be “immediately suspended and removed from office during an internal investigation,” the letter said.

Sources shared the letter with City Pulse but not who signed it.

The signers represent less than 10% of the membership, Watkins clarified today. He pegged membership at about 400. .

Copedge declined to comment until he could receive guidance from state and national chapter officials, he said. Copedge said he was unaware of the letter until City Pulse shared it with him.

Watkins said he doesn’t have any plans to acquiesce to the demands.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Watkins told City Pulse. “I was elected twice to serve as vice president, and I don’t intend to resign from anything. I’m here serving to the best of my ability.”

The letter to National NAACP President Derrick Johnson and Michigan State Conference President Yvonne White in February outlined the complaints against Copedge and Watkins, alleging they failed to fulfill several duties outlined within chapter bylaws. It also requested that national officials quickly suspend, investigate and remove them from their positions in Lansing.

Both men remained in their leadership roles this week. Johnson and White didn’t respond to emails and subsequently couldn’t confirm the receipt of the letter.

“Our concern is that neither men seem to understand the NAACP charge,” the letter states. “Our mayor and city officials are comfortable in their stances against brown and Black people and in the presence of the president and vice president of the NAACP. Both men are experienced as roadblocks in the efforts of the general membership to address the racist practices in Lansing.”

Copedge serves on Lansing Mayor Andy Schor’s Racial Justice and Equity Alliance, a 40-member group appointed by the mayor last year to address racial inequities in the city. Watkins chairs Schor’s Inclusion and Diversity Advisory Council.

Both have refused to resign from those organizations despite requests from chapter members, according to the letter. And now a contingent of local NAACP members are growing concerned that those roles could “give the illusion that the NAACP supports the mayor unconditionally.”

“Our desire is to work with the mayor, but not at the expense of destroying the personhood of brown and Black people,” according to the letter, noting that both men were asked to resign from the roles “so we will not be working against each other.”

The letter also states: “There is a culture of covert, oppressive and manipulative practices. Current members stop engaging and new members leave frustrated because they are not utilized to help grow the organization. We, the undersigned, declare that this branch’s reputation in this community leaves much to be desired. … The president and the vice president uses the NAACP to advance their own political interests instead of being a voice for the community.”

Schor’s administration has faced no shortage of criticism (and lawsuits) tied to its treatment of Black and brown people in Lansing. Last year, he allowed tear gas to be deployed at a protest against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Statistics also show local cops disproportionately arrest and search Black people much more frequently than white people.

Several former Black employees have spoken out about alleged mistreatment under Schor’s administration after they quit, were fired or otherwise removed from their jobs after the mayor took office in 2018. Those complaints have also culminated in a lawsuit filed last year from several former city employees — including Black Lives Matter Co-Leader Michael Lynn Jr.

Until last week, the Lansing NAACP branch has remained relatively silent on those issues.

Its first real public criticism of Schor’s administration arrived in a press release Tuesday.

“This is not the record acceptable of any mayor. Our community deserves and demands better,” it read. “Lansing’s lack of accountability, outdated policies to address discrimination, and use of force issues fail to address the matters faced by so many people of color. Numerous lives are being affected by Mayor Schor’s actions and must be appropriately addressed immediately. We cannot wait. We demand accountability now — not more reports and recommendations.”

But for some members, that newfound voice for accountability apparently arrived too late.

“We, the undersigned, believe the branch will be revitalized with the removal of the branch president and vice-president,” the recent complaint letter states. “We believe removal will result in an actively engaged membership, strong partnerships and a collaborative community.”

Watkins said the recent letter was motivated and signed mostly by new members of the chapter who are frustrated with the sluggish pace of internal bureaucracy. He said press releases and protests — including those taking a stand against Schor — often require approval from state and national NAACP officials, who aren’t always too quick to jump into a localized controversy.

“This executive committee makes the decisions for the branch. We’re not obligated to respond to every incident that occurs, and, for the most part, we need a written document that explains these issues before we can jump in and take positions. When we don’t have that, we’re not going half-cocked into issues,” Watkins explained. “As an organization, we can’t afford to take positions based on opinions only to find out those opinions are wrong or skewed somehow.”

Nationally, the NAACP has tried to stay relevant amid an era largely defined by Black Lives Matter. The demands of a younger generation — including demands to divest from the Police Department — often appear impatient compared to the NAACP’s style of advocacy, which works from within the system to hammer out legislative change over more raucous street-side rallies.

And that’s exactly why Watkins said he has refused to resign from Schor’s advisory committees.

“I’m not there to represent the NAACP,” Watkins said. “I don’t claim to be there for that reason. To affect change, you’ve got to sit down at the table. You’ve got to be able to see both sides.”

NAACP bylaws give authority to Johnson to suspend any officer or member pending a full hearing if he’s “satisfied that there is a danger of irreparable harm” to the local chapter. The complaints against Copedge and Watkins were also supposed to have been forwarded to them within 10 days of receipt. Both of them said they had never seen the letter before this week.

Bylaws will also give them an opportunity to file a written response and appeal any decisions.

Copedge also said he plans to submit a written response to the allegations to City Pulse.

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