Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott criticized the county NAACP in a strongly-worded letter sent this week, and announced his decision not to donate to the organization for the first time in at least five years.
“I simply find myself unable to support your professional agenda, which I believe actually contradicts the end goal of eliminating double standards,” Scott said Tuesday in a letter printed on sheriff’s office letterhead and addressed to James Muwakkil, president of the NAACP Lee County branch.
The sheriff’s office has donated to the NAACP's annual Freedom Fund Awards Banquet the past three years, buying a table for $1,500 last year, sheriff records indicate. Scott declined the invitation to do so again this year, citing two reasons. First, Scott said he is upset the local NAACP expressed disapproval at the not guilty verdict a Sanford jury gave George Zimmerman this month. Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, was accused of fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black 17-year-old. The jury found Zimmerman acted in self-defense, but some in Florida and nationwide have said racial discrimination came into play.
Instead of worrying about a case about 200 miles north, the Lee County NAACP should worry about the young, black males dying in Fort Myers shootings, Scott said in the letter.
“To date, I am unaware of any appreciable attention or public outcry the NAACP locally or nationally have afforded these issues in our own, proverbial backyard,” Scott said in the letter.
Muwakkil said Scott did not confirm his accusations before sending the letter, which he describes as vicious and a low blow.
“We’ve been addressing crime,” Muwakkil said, “(by) putting in place of crime opportunities for employment.”
The Lee County NAACP recruits socially and economically disadvantaged young people for its youth group, and takes them to national competitions where they can win college scholarships, Muwakkil said. The organization partnered with local employers, such as construction companies, and convinced them to hold job fairs in the Fort Myers 33916 zip code — where many of the city’s homicides take place. The Lee County NAACP partners with local law enforcement and shares information it hears about crimes, and the organization also will meet in August with Nancy Graham, superintendent of Lee County Public Schools, to discuss ways to support students who want to go to trade school instead of college.
Scott’s second complaint was that the Lee County NAACP requested the county commission remove a painting of Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee, for whom the county is named, from its council chambers. Everyone should feel comfortable in the chambers, not made to look at a symbol reminiscent of slavery, Muwakkil said.
Scott said the request to remove the painting promotes a double standard, because the NAACP has not decried the use of the N-word by hip-hop artists.
“While I am not black, I continue to be amazed by what is deemed ‘racially offense and/or insensitive’ and what is not,” Scott said in his letter. “For example, the rampant use of the word (expletive deleted) in the wildly popular hip-hop culture that floods the ears of youth across this nation and is comprised primarily of black artists apparently stirs little to no emotion among blacks but the portrait of General Lee does?”
The Lee County NAACP does not condone use of the N-word, Muwakkil said, adding he does not let black people use the word in his presence.
In his letter, Scott used the full N-word twice, in quotations, when making his point about its prominence in popular culture.
“He didn’t need to use the entire word,” Muwakkil said. “It was ugly and it was offensive and it was unmanly and it was un-sheriff-like.”
Muwakkil said he interprets Scott’s letter as a withdrawal of support from Lee County’s black community. He plans to file a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics, Governor Rick Scott’s office and the national NAACP office.
Muwakkil was also disappointed Scott voiced his complaints in a public letter instead of calling or meeting with him. He was first alerted of the letter through a NBC-2 reporter’s call Wednesday morning, and had to request an emailed copy through the sheriff’s public information office, he said. Muwakkil received a copy of the letter in the mail Thursday.
Scott’s office has not returned a request for comment on the letter. He has refused comment and limited his employees comments to The News-Press since February 2012.
The national NAACP office has not returned calls for comment.
Last year the Lee County NAACP banquet raised about $35,000, so Scott’s yearly $1,500 contribution is not a huge percentage. But the withdrawal of that donation will have an impact. The organization is a non-profit, into which Muawkkil has had to put about $20,000 of his own money over the past five years.
Lee County commissioners Larry Kiker, Cecil Pendergrass and John Manning declined comment on Scott’s letter.
“I wouldn’t comment on his judgment,” Manning said. “He is an elected official — he is welcome to have his opinion just as the NAACP is welcome to theirs.”