The St. Louis County NAACP is throwing its support behind the group’s suspended president even as the national association presses on with an investigation into the leader’s behavior.
“It is my hope that after John has his opportunity to prove the type of work he was doing, which was really good work, he can get made whole again and made president again,” interim president John Bowman said.
John Gaskin III was removed from the branch as president by the national chapter on April 25 for supporting a bill that would revise Missouri’s Title IX law, changing the due-process rights of students accused of sexual misconduct and making it harder for women to come forward with on-campus allegations. The NAACP is also investigating Gaskin for taking a paid position with Unite STL — a political committee that is backing the now-defunct Better Together plan.
Bowman said the county chapter stands behind the NAACP and their position on the state’s proposed Title IX amendment. He also said the chapter will hold conversations about reforms to repair the criminal justice system.
“We need to be realistic. There are some desperate needs of criminal justice and municipal court reform that needs to happen here,” Bowman said. “Those are things that we really need to be honest about.”
When Gaskin announced the county NAACP would support the Better Together plan, he singled out criminal justice as one of the reasons for the endorsement. In an April 18 press release, Gaskin said that Better Together would “create desperately needed criminal justice reform and lift up all St. Louis residents.”
As of yesterday, Better Together pulled their legislation proposal to merge St. Louis County and city.
Though the plan has been shelved until further notice, Gaskin’s endorsement of the merger caused an uproar amongst black political leaders across the region, causing black figures like Councilwoman Hazel Erby of University City and Dellwood Mayor Reggie Jones to condemn the Better Together plan and call for Gaskin to resign.
Gaskin did not resign, but national NAACP President Derrick Johnson did order Gaskin to return all keys, passwords and any other NAACP property that he possessed by May 2 to Bowman, the chapter’s first vice president.
On May 2, Bowman retrieved the requested information and property.
Now that Gaskin has returned all of the county chapter’s belongings, he has until May 15 to request a hearing into the allegations with the national chapter.
After a request for comment from the national chapter, Austyn Ross, a public relations specialist for the NAACP, said via email: “Mr. Gaskin was directed to immediately cease holding himself out as President of the Branch. As the letter begins an internal adjudication process, the NAACP will have no further public statements about this matter until the process is completed."
Because Gaskin’s appeal is in the hands of the national organization, Bowman said he could not speak on any matters dealing with Gaskin’s endorsement statement regarding the Better Together plan. However, Bowman did mention that a representative from Better Together spoke to the county chapter’s political action committee in February to discuss and explain the merger.
“I think it has some good ideas and I think it has some bad ideas, but I think it really needs to be vetted out and looked at from an open-minded view of where we really are as a region,” Bowman said. “It’s not my endorsement, but if we are ever going to have real criminal justice reform, we’re not going to be able to keep doing things the way we are doing now.”
Along with Johnson’s removal request, he stated in the removal email that it was brought to his attention that Gaskin may have participated in conversations regarding the merger despite accepting a paid position for an advocacy arm that supports Better Together.
Bowman said there was an emergency executive committee meeting on April 29 where the committee questioned Gaskin about his alleged paid position with Unite STL. Gaskin said he was not on payroll at the time nor did he have a contract with the political arm.
If the NAACP finds Gaskin in violation of any of the association’s bylaws, then the county chapter will follow any requests from the national chapter, Bowman said. As for now, Bowman will continue in the role of acting president until the appeals decision is finalized, or until the next county chapter election in November 2020, whichever comes first.
In addition to debating criminal justice reform, Bowman said he wants to continue guiding the community to different skills-training and career opportunities.
“We want to make sure we’re providing information that is going to enhance economic opportunities in our communities,” Bowman said.
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