The national office of the NAACP this week suspended Seattle King County branch President Sadiqa Sakin amid a swirl of allegations about financial impropriety against her and her predecessor, leaving many involved with the organization unsure of whom to believe and a trail of disappointment and bitterness.
“Your suspension from office is effective immediately pending the results of your hearing and further action by the NAACP Board of Directors,” Derrick Johnson, the organization’s national president and CEO, wrote in a Nov. 4 letter to Sakin, as first reported in The Seattle Medium. “This action is taken to protect the NAACP from the danger of irreparable harm.”
The letter, following reports of bounced checks and allegedly improper use of an NAACP credit card, also directed Sakin to forward “any/and all property and records” to Gerald Hankerson, president of the NAACP’s Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference.
The suspension heightens turmoil in the civil-rights organization that was already extreme, fed by a crossfire of accusations, a pending police investigation, a social media storm and charges of misogynistic harassment.
Sakin, along with some board members, had for months been raising questions about Hankerson’s financial management when he was president of the local branch, even going to the Seattle Police Department. Hankerson served for six years as branch president before Sakin took over from him in January.
Sakin paints her suspension as retaliation and the result of a smear campaign that has also led to vandalism and people showing up at her house, banging on the door.
“I won’t leave my house,” she said. “I’m afraid.”
Hankerson vehemently denies misusing NAACP money and said he had nothing to do with Sakin’s suspension. “This is all national’s doing,” he said. “It has absolutely nothing to do with me.”
Vanessa Mbonu, spokeswoman for the national office, said the organization can’t comment while an investigation is pending.
Earlier this year, a group of local branch members filed a formal complaint about Sakin with the national office and asked for her removal. Among the charges was that Sakin intentionally wrote nearly $10,000 in bounced checks.
Sakin said checks bounced, but blamed automatic deductions for bill payments set up during Hankerson’s administration and not communicated to successors.
The complaint against Sakin also took her to task for releasing to the media and law enforcement a “confidential internal audit” of finances under Hankerson’s tenure.
The audit — done by Edward Newbins, the branch treasurer and an auditor for the federal government — said a lack of “internal controls” and “financial transparency” raised the possibility that hundreds of thousands of dollars could have been misappropriated. In an interview this week, Newbins said he couldn’t conclude that anything criminal occurred, but was troubled by the lack of documentation for spending.
Sakin said the board voted to give the audit to police, who are continuing to investigate, according to SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb. She said she also informed national officials of the findings.
“I’m sure if the national office felt anything was there, there would have been actions against me,” said Hankerson, who has been president of the state conference for six years, much of that time serving simultaneously as the local branch president.
After all that, branch board members said it came as a shock when they recently learned that Sakin had gotten an NAACP credit card and charged close to $4,000 for what they deemed personal expenses. She also took money out of an account set aside for a $1,250-a-month stipend she was to receive as president, but which Newbins said the board asked her not to use because the branch was short on cash.
“All of us were just left dumbfounded,” said Phoenix Johnson, whom Sakin invited onto the board this summer. Sakin, who is Muslim, said at the time she was making an effort to reach out to different communities. Johnson is Native American and a veteran. Earlier, Sakin had invited a gay man to be the branch’s first LGBTQ chair.
Some cheered the new blood. But Sakin faced backlash, too, as she shook things up and removed board members, according to Johnson and others. The latest revelations disillusioned even some board members who worked closely with Sakin.
“I was very disappointed,” said Newbins. The branch treasurer added that he had told Sakin not to use the credit card after he found out she had gotten it.
In a Nov. 2 email to board members, Sakin apologized for what she called her “reckless behavior,” and said she would pay back the money and take her name off the credit card.
She also said there had been a lot going on that explained why she used the money, including social media attacks and vandalism of both a car she owns and one she rented while hers was being fixed. She needed money to pay for the repairs, she said, and also to file restraining orders against people she believed to be threatening.
One of those people is Carl Mack, a former branch president who now lives in Maryland but has been actively monitoring the turmoil in Seattle. He said he concluded that Sakin’s administration has been spending far too much money, including on a PR firm to improve the organization’s image.
“RESIGN IMMEDIATELY,” he urged Sakin in one of many long Facebook posts devoted to the subject. He has also questioned whether she is being truthful about her college education and even the sorority she said she belonged to. Sakin said she was being truthful.
“This is men coming at me,” Sakin said of the attacks by Mack and others. “They’re trying to imply I’m not worthy of the position.”
“It had nothing to do with whether or not she was a woman,” said Mack, who endorsed Sakin last year. He said he was concerned then about the branch’s finances and hoping she would take a look at the records. Now, he said, he felt the need to hold her accountable.
Despite her emailed apology, Sakin said she came to realize she did nothing wrong. She took the credit card out for emergencies and, as she sees it, she faced an emergency, one related to her role as president. “I made an executive decision,” she said.
Her name is on the card and she will pay the bill, she added. “I am not stealing.”
As for the stipend account, Sakin said it can be used at the president’s discretion.
As tensions continue to mount, Carolyn Riley-Payne, a previous branch vice president now serving as the acting president, said she’s trying to get back to normal NAACP business. “We’ll be moving to heal ourselves,” she said.