Phoenix NAACP Boss Quits Over "Tits" Remarks

Don Harris walks away from reporters after a vote by the local NAACP to accept his resignation on Monday night.
Don Harris walks away from reporters after a vote by the local NAACP to accept his resignation on Monday night.
Ray Stern

Don Harris is no longer the leader of Arizona's largest NAACP chapter because of sexist comments he made last week following a community meeting about six Ahwatukee teenagers' use of a racial epithet.

Harris, a local lawyer and former U.S. Marine Corps officer, had been under fire for several days after remarking to New Times — twice — that a TV reporter who had just interviewed him had "nice tits." As a recording posted by New Times reveals, a reporter had been in the middle of asking a question about the meeting when Harris made the unsolicited observation.

Harris' inappropriate remarks were covered widely, including on national websites like Gawker.com and on the Internet news show The Young Turks. Among those calling for Harris' resignation were the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, local radio hosts Mac Watson and Larry Gaydos, activist Jarrett Maupin, and Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts. The Baltimore-based national headquarters of the NAACP didn't return a message from New Times.

Benjamin Taylor, NAACP lawyer, handed out a short statement after a meeting on Monday of the Maricopa County branch's executive committee.
Benjamin Taylor, NAACP lawyer, handed out a short statement after a meeting on Monday of the Maricopa County branch's executive committee.
Ray Stern

On Monday night, TV reporters gathered outside the NAACP's branch office at 1818 South 16th Street, waiting for word of an executive committee decision about Harris following a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m.

About 7:30, Harris emerged from the building and walked toward his car as reporters asked him what happened. 

One of the TV reporters asked him what he would do next.

"I'm 78," Harris answered. "I'm going to die."

Then he got into his black Mercedes and drove away. 

Benjamin Taylor, a local attorney who works with the NAACP, handed a news release to reporters, telling them there would be further statements or questions answered.

The news release (see below) is titled: "Maricopa County NAACP president Don Harris removed from office."

"The Maricopa County Branch NAACP continues to work on issues that are paramount to our community," the statement says. "The mission of the NAACP is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons. The Executive Committee has voted today."

The part that comes next is crossed out loosely and reads: "to remove Mr. Don Harris as the Chapter's President." Underneath the crossed-out line is the handwritten text: "to accept Mr. Don Harris' resignation."

No clarification was forthcoming, as Taylor decreed.

Harris' departure comes about a year and a half after he took over as president in 2014, when the Reverend Oscar Tillman retired after 22 years in the position.

Because he's white, Harris was interviewed by media outlets in June when Rachel Dolezal, the NAACP president in Spokane, Washington, was outed as a white person by her family. Harris told the Daily Beast at the time:

“Some people are resentful of a white face of the NAACP . . . I don’t like it, but I understand it. Anyone that knows me for the past approximately 15 years [knows] I’ve given blood, sweat, tears, and money to support the NAACP in Arizona.

Despite the work he's done for the organization, his comments about Channel 12 News (KPNX-TV) reporter Monique Griego were perceived by many as not only off-color and sexist but hypocritical and ironic — considering the setting. 

The closed meeting on January 26 of 40 or more local leaders, activists, and educators was supposed to help quell the outrage over a massively shared photo of smiling Desert Vista High School seniors using letters — and asterisks — on their T-shirts to spell the word, "NI**ER."

After the photo went viral, protesters gathered at the school on January 25, police presence on campus was boosted, and the entire student body took time from their studies to discuss the issue and create a paper "unity chain."

The next day, immediately following the closed meeting at the Tempe Union High School District's office at 500 West Guadalupe Road, Harris was one of the few meeting participants who chose to talk to the press about what had been discussed. As Griego and New Times listened, Harris detailed how he'd pledged $5,000 to an effort to eradicate the n-word from society. After Griego said goodbye to him, Harris turned and made the remarks about Greigo's anatomy.

The viral photo that caused outrage and community discussion about racism and the use of the n-word.
The viral photo that caused outrage and community discussion about racism and the use of the n-word.

When New Times called Harris later for comment, the NAACP president expressed disbelief that anyone would question him about the remarks.

"I'm really fucking sorry," he said in a tirade. "I'm going to slash my wrists . . . Better yet, I'm going to throw myself out of a fucking window, except I'm on the first floor . . . I'm one of the best goddamned people in the state.

"They've seen me now, they've seen what I've done. I've given up my law practice. I'm down here six, seven days a week. That's what my commitment is. I support NOW, the women's organization — goddamn! — are you shitting me? Are you going to write this up?"

When the story was published and began attracting attention nationwide, Harris told the NAACP board he'd resign if members wanted him to. It's unknown what the executive committee's final vote was — Harris had supporters, including the group's first vice president, Ann Hart, who told New Times last week that she was recommending Harris be allowed to stay, despite "extreme concern" over his choice of words.

Taylor told ABC-15 News (KNXV-TV) that Hart would serve as interim president.

Harris later talked to the Arizona Republic about his resignation, saying, "My overall thought process was I just didn't want to hurt the organization and take a protracted stance here that would tear it apart. The best thing is to go away."

The foul-mouthed Vietnam vet ran unsuccessfully for Maricopa County Attorney in 2004, winning the Democratic primary but losing in the general election to Republican Andrew Thomas, who ended up disbarred for abusing his power.

Harris had served as county attorney previously, appointed for five months in 1976 to replace Moise Berger, who'd been accused of corruption. While in the position, Harris had the important murder case of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles taken from him and given to then-Attorney General Bruce Babbitt's office. Harris later would call Babbitt, who became governor, a "liar" and "criminal."


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >