Suburban Texas councilman faces recall after declaring a ‘black state of emergency’ over police shootings

After the high-profile deaths of two North Texas residents at the hands of police officers, the lone black city council member in a conservative suburb north of Dallas pushed his colleagues to declare a “black state of emergency” this fall.

Now that effort could play a role in costing him his job.

During Tuesday's McKinney City Council meeting, members are expected to receive a report on thousands of signatures that, if certified as expected, will mandate a recall election against La’Shadion Shemwell.

Shemwell has for more than a year been a controversial figure in the city for much of his term, thanks to brushes with the law and angry comments he made about the city’s police after he was arrested during a traffic stop in May 2018.

But the petition to remove him came nearly a month after Shemwell unsuccessfully pushed the council to adopt an emergency proclamation and tweeted that people should refrain from traveling to Texas in light of the police shootings.

“WHEREAS the State of Texas and its local governments have declared war on black and brown citizens by conspiring to kill, injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate, and to willfully deprive citizens of their constitutional rights while acting under color of law,” reads the resolution, according to a tweet Shemwell posted in October. There was never a vote on the proclamation at the council, and there was never an item up for action because only the mayor can issue proclamations.

Since then, the petition to recall Shemwell collected more than 3,000 signatures, including from the city’s mayor and three members of the City Council. If the signatures are validated, the petition will trigger a recall election if Shemwell doesn’t resign voluntarily.

Those in favor of the motion to oust Shemwell, the second black person to have a seat on McKinney’s City Council, say he’s lied numerous times to the public, including regarding the circumstances surrounding the May 2018 speeding ticket. Shemwell initially said he was racially profiled but later backpedaled after reviewing body camera footage of the arrest and acknowledged he was more argumentative than he remembered.

Many of his opponents also questioned his ethics after a Collin County grand jury decided not to indict Shemwell on a family violence charge after a woman he had dated reportedly accused him of attacking her. They’ve also accused him of lying and fabricating stories in order to receive attention. (In his tweets highlighting his proclamation, he tagged celebrities like Beyoncé, Meek Mill and Whoopi Goldberg to attempt to get their attention and support.)

Shemwell, who did not respond to inquiries from The Texas Tribune, has maintained the recall effort is racially motivated.

“This is white supremacy in the form of good ol’ boys: ‘Do what we do, or else,’” Shemwell told The Dallas Morning News.

But Shemwell’s detractors say he’s made a long list of incendiary or “crazy” comments while in office. Jolie Williams, a McKinney resident helping collect signatures for the petition, lives outside of Shemwell’s district and first heard about him from a close friend who lives in his district.

“You can’t indict everybody on an incident that happened with one or two people,” Williams said of Shemwell’s “black state of emergency” comment. “Are there bad police officers? Yes. Do they need to be held accountable for it? Yes. But not every police officer is bad.”

In addition, she and others decried Shemwell’s use of a racial slur during a December town hall when he described the 2018 traffic violation, which led to his brief arrest. His comments came after Shemwell voted to censure himself and apologized to the officer who pulled him over.

“This is the new Jim Crow,” Shemwell said of his being pulled over, according to a video posted to Facebook. “That was the difference in that stop was that [the officer] let me know that even though I was an elected official, that I was still a n—.”

McKinney Mayor George Fuller, who said he initially supported Shemwell’s bid for local office but has since signed the recall petition, said Shemwell’s rhetoric “lends itself to create a dangerous situation.” Fuller said the discussions surrounding the recall began after Shemwell’s arrest and the body camera footage was released but that his latest comments “definitely reinvigorated the community.”

Fuller said he attended the December town hall “in good faith” but was turned off after Shemwell’s comment about how his race factored into the traffic violation.

“No, they stopped you because you were doing 60 in a 40,” Fuller said of Shemwell’s comment, noting that the council member “acted like an ass” and then “cried wolf.”

In addition to Fuller, prominent local leaders like fellow council members Frederick Frazier; Rainey Rogers, who is mayor pro tem; and Rick Franklin have signed the recall petition, according to people involved in the recall effort. A “Recall Shemwell” Facebook page has more than 700 followers.

Shemwell’s supporters, meanwhile, said that “the city has ignored an opportunity to have a conversation about racism in McKinney.” Members of an organization called the Democratic Socialists of America North Texas Racial Justice Working Group have pledged online to wear red during Tuesday's meeting to “stand in solidarity as McKinney residents make their voices heard.”

“Councilperson La’Shadion Shemwell called for a ‘Black State of Emergency in Texas,’” the group’s Facebook event page reads. “Two white residents of McKinney that do not live in his district (which is the only district that is predominantly people of color) spearheaded a campaign to have him recalled for ‘creating racial division in the community.’”

The discussion of Shemwell’s recall election is the last item on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, according to the McKinney City Council website. After the signatures are validated, Shemwell will have five days to resign, Fuller said. If he doesn’t, the matter will go to McKinney residents, who will vote in May on whether Shemwell can remain in office.

This is not the first time McKinney has been thrust into the spotlight for its handling of race-related issues. In mid-2015, protests erupted in response to police action dispersing a crowd at a pool party over the weekend. An officer was shown on video throwing to the ground a 15-year-old girl and then pointing a gun at some unarmed teens.

Census numbers indicate that 61% of McKinney’s residents are white and 12% are black.

Shemwell said he’s had a target on his back since he was elected in 2017. If he survives the recall petition and subsequent May election, he’ll be up for reelection in May 2021.

“Since I’ve been elected, it’s been a destroy campaign,” he told the News. “It’s a discredit campaign. It’s trying to make me seem less reliable. They’re trying to diminish who I am and the things that I’ve done in this community.

“I can’t keep this seat alone. I didn’t get here alone. I wasn’t elected alone,” he said. “So if the community wants me in, the community will stand up. If the community allows this to take place and allows their vote to be taken, then that’s on the community. And I’m OK.”

If replaced, McKinney citizen Al Perry, who said he is liberal and campaigned for Shemwell but is now an organizer of the recall campaign, said he’d likely only back a person of color to replace the councilman.

“The end game is not getting him out. It’s getting him replaced,” Perry said. “We have to have a minority out there to speak for the minority community.”

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