Phoenix NAACP Chief Don Harris Takes Heat After Sexist Remarks

(Harris defends his credibility.)
(Harris' resignation is accepted by NAACP board.)

The president of the Maricopa County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took heat and nearly resigned following an article in New Times about sexist comments he made about a TV reporter.

The NAACP leader, Don Harris, didn't return a voice mail. 

Harris got in trouble Wednesday after the New Times article was published and shared widely on the Internet, including on national news sites Gawker and Jezebel.

Harris made the comments after a meeting of local community leaders who were discussing a viral photo of six Desert Vista High School girls spelling the n-word with letters on their T-shirts.

Harris talked to reporters after the meeting, saying he had donated $5,000 toward an effort to eradicate the racial epithet. Then, concluding an interview with Monique Griego of Channel 12 News (KPNX-TV), the 77-year-old former officer in the U.S. Marine Corps turned to New Times and — interrupting a question about the n-word controversy — announced: "Nice tits!" in obvious reference to the TV reporter.

He repeated the phrase before answering more questions about the meeting.

When New Times called him on Wednesday before the article was published, Harris got upset at the focus on his words, saying he was "really fucking sorry." He said he'd quit his law practice after taking over for Reverend Oscar Tillman in 2014 and had been working six to seven days a week for the NAACP.

Phoenix civil rights activist Jarrett Maupin, a controversial figure himself, called for Harris to step down after the gaffe and noted that Harris is white and Griego is a Latina.

"I am a life member of the NAACP. The local president has embarrassed and disgraced the organization," Maupin wrote in a news release. "I don't know if it was stupidity or white privilege that caused this white man to say such a sexist and misogynistic thing to or about any woman, particularly a woman of color."

Ann Hart, first vice president for the Maricopa County NAACP, tells New Times of the "extreme concern" over Harris' statements and how a board meeting to discuss the issue, probably with Harris present, is planned for this afternoon.

However, Hart also says she recommended that Harris stay on as president because of the good he's done for the organization. She praised his work in the African-American community and said it's possible his "humorous nature" sometimes goes too far.

Harris should have taken more care with his words in the context of the situation, while representing the NAACP, she said. But "the good things outweigh the bad in something like this."

Yet later on Wednesday night, ABC-15 reporter Jon Erickson reported that Harris had resigned as local NAACP director. 

Erickson reported: "Harris said he does not believe the TV reporter could hear him.

"Harris said he understands the optics of blasting the use of a racial epithet at the meeting, then stepping outside and making a sexist comment about the reporter.

"'It was a guy talking to another guy,' Harris said. 'That still doesn’t make it acceptable.'"

It's unclear whether Griego heard Harris' comments. She declined New Times' request for comment about the situation. But she and several other people were within earshot. New Times recorded the interview and posted an excerpt in which Harris can be heard commenting on Griego's anatomy.

After Erickson's report, however, Harris apparently changed his mind. In an Arizona Republic article published about 11:15 p.m. Wednesday, Harris said he was leaving the question of his resignation in the hands of the NAACP chapter's executive board.

"I said if they want me gone, I'm gone," he told the Republic. "I'm not ducking from anything. I did something stupid and wrong, and I'm sorry for it. I can't beat myself forever about it. I said it. And I can't be any more sincere."

The Republic article also quoted NAACP lawyer Benjamin Taylor as saying: "Don has been a member of the NAACP since the '80s . . . This is an unfortunate incident that happened, and Don feels terrible. I have spoken to him personally, and he regrets what happened and he apologizes tremendously."

Harris was known for making off-the-cuff comments long before this. When he ran for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office as a Democrat in 2004, he called former Governor Bruce Babbitt a "liar" and a "criminal."

Below is the recording of part of what Harris said:

Harris "Tits" Comment

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.