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The Rise and Recall of McKinney Council Member La'Shadion Shemwell

McKinney voters booted La’Shadion Shemwell (center), an activist in racial justice protests, off the town's council.
McKinney voters booted La’Shadion Shemwell (center), an activist in racial justice protests, off the town's council.
Lucas Manfield

On Election Day, McKinney residents voted to recall black City Council member La’Shadion Shemwell. Efforts to kick him off the council had been underway since last November. Shemwell has maintained that the recall is racially charged and unconstitutional, and says he’s not backing down.

“Since the day I was elected, officials have advocated for my recall,” Shemwell said in a statement following the vote.

Shemwell won his seat on the council in 2017. He started his campaign after a white McKinney police officer pulled a gun on a group of high schoolers and violently restrained a black 15-year-old girl at a neighborhood pool. Footage of the incident went viral across the country.

According to his biography on the McKinney city website, Shemwell was one of the first on the scene. It also describes his upbringing facing “economic, social, and educational challenges, including crime, violence and a lack of positive opportunities.”

During his time on the council, he doubled as an activist in North Texas, and celebrated small wins for his constituents like installing water fountains in the city’s east side parks near many of McKinney’s minority communities.

Shemwell has made headlines a few times since he was elected. In 2018 when he was arrested after he refused to sign a speeding ticket and insisted that the stop was racially motivated. He later apologized for the incident. Last year when he confronted Dallas Police Chief U. René Hall during a heated police oversight board meeting.

The month before the recall efforts began, Shemwell tried to get the council to pass a “Black State of Emergency” proclamation and was telling people on social media not to come to Texas because of recent police shootings.

“I issued a Black State of Emergency proclamation because I believed our community was being targeted and subjected to systemic violence that needed to be addressed,” he said.

In the proclamation, Shemwell called on police departments to update use-of-force laws, require additional training for law enforcement officers, establish an identity and racial profiling board, require law enforcement to create an annual report detailing use of force and establish an external investigation process exclusive of the Texas Rangers.

He tried to issue the proclamation after the shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson by a white Fort Worth police officer.

The move sparked backlash from his fellow council members. Three of the council members and the McKinney mayor were among the over 3,000 signatures gathered for the petition to recall Shemwell.

But he says the city charter was changed to make it easier to recall him. More specifically, he claims they lowered the number of recall petition signatures needed to get the job done and expanded the number of days allowed to collect those signatures.

According to The Local Profile, a Collin County-based magazine, McKinney Mayor George Fuller did support council members’ recommended change to the city charter to extend the allotted time to gather signatures by 15 days. Additionally, the rules were changed to require only 3,200 signatures, instead of 15,000.

“The only way they could get rid of me was to constantly move the goalposts and change the rules,” Shemwell says.

Since March, he has been pursuing a federal lawsuit against McKinney to prevent the recall, claiming it is unconstitutional because the voters in his district aren’t the ones calling for his removal.

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Attorneys Blerim Elmazi and Lee Merritt are representing Shemwell in his civil action against McKinney. In an email to the Observer, Elmazi said the lawsuit claims the city violated the Voting Rights Act when it amended its charter to make Shemwell subject to recall by the entire city.

“In a city that has never seen a Black candidate elected citywide, it’s clear that the City was attempting to remove Councilman Shemwell by diluting the voting strength of voters in his majority-minority district,” Elmazi said.

They are working in federal court to invalidate the City’s amendments to its recall process.

Over 79% of McKinney residents voted to remove Shemwell from the council. His term would have ended in May. Now, the council can either leave the seat empty until then or hold a special election to have it filled. Shemwell could also run for his seat again when his term expires.

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