April 6th, 2012
04:09 PM ET

Marion Barry's remarks on Asians' 'dirty shops' ignite criticism after primary win

[Updated Friday at 4:09 p.m. ET] Washington Councilman Marion Barry said Friday he could've rephrased his controversial remark about "dirty" Asian businesses in his district, but he refused to back down.

He said his adrenaline was flowing after Tuesday's primary victory, when he made the comment, and that he merely was trying to convey that the business community in his Ward 8 needs a new attitude. Asians run a large percentage of the ward's stores and small shops, he said.

“I said something that I probably could have phrased differently. What you mean is the same. You’re not going to have people who are exploiting us in this community. They’re going to be part of the community. We welcome all businesspeople here … but give us some jobs.”

Several lawmakers, including the D.C. mayor and some of Barry's fellow council members, condemned his remarks - criticism Barry downplayed earlier this week. CNN's Athena Jones, who interviewed Barry on Friday, also spoke to Korean shop owner Helen Lee, who said she was angered by the councilman's castigation.

"We work really hard to keep our facility clean and to serve, like, this community. We've been here for over 20 years now," said Lee's daughter, Miriam. "So it's really insulting for him to come out of the blue and say that we're dirty and that, you know, we should be replaced, basically because we've been here for so long."

Told of the Lees' sentiments, Barry again disregarded the criticism, saying, "Leadership requires leadership."

"If she’s mad at me, tell her put some money in this community. Hire some people in this community. Give money to various organizations in this community, " he said. "If she’s mad, then do something about it.”

Barry further said that his remarks were not divisive because of his past civil rights record, and he blamed the media and political opponents for making his remark appear prejudiced. Asked if he would retract the statement, Barry appeared to say he would not.

“First of all, these people don’t know Marion Barry’s record, don’t know my commitment to the Asian and other communities, don’t know of my commitment to justice and injustice in Washington, all over the country. Fifty years I’ve been fighting. I get strong support from the Asian community."

Jones pressed him again on whether he would retract the statement and he replied,  “I’ve done everything I’m going to do, and I’ve made my position clear. We’re not going to take this disrespect from anybody – black, white, Hispanic, anybody else.”

Asked if he had any message for the shop owners he was addressing in his Tuesday victory speech, he said, "Get busy. Hire some D.C. residents, Ward 8 residents. Clean your stores up, those who didn't clean up. Be a part of the community. Don't take all their money to Virginia or Maryland. Leave some right here in this community. We want it. We will demand it."

Barry capped the interview by pontificating on why he is constantly the subject of controversy and media scrutiny.

"Well, because I'm doing such a great job. I'm doing a fantastic job. My political enemies, the haters and the other kind of people have got to to find something to do. They attack Marion Barry. That's all. They ought to do something else."

[Posted Thursday at 7:22 p.m. ET] Washington Councilman and former Mayor Marion Barry spent Thursday firmly defending, explaining and elaborating upon on a comment many feel was disparaging to Asians in his district.

The remark came Tuesday, following his victory in the primary to retain his Ward 8 council seat. During a speech about the dire need for economic improvements in his ward, the city's poorest, Barry said, “We've got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops."

He continued, “They ought to go. I just tell you that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

WRC-TV in Washington, which originally aired the speech clip, said that a reporter went to his home and campaign office for clarification but was unable to find the councilman.

Barry did not immediately return a CNN voice mail message or e-mail requesting an interview, but a series of tweets from his Twitter account today claim his remarks were blown out of proportion.

"My comments were taken out of context and construed as disparaging 2 entire Asian biz community. We DO deserve our bizs t/b nice places in W8," read one.

An earlier tweet said, "WE can do a better job. I do NOT disparage the Asian community, but the fact is there r some bizs that can do better." The second tweet linked out to a photo of a beat-up storefront that The Washington Post identified as a Chinese carry-out restaurant in Congress Heights.

The Post reported that a Facebook page demanding an apology from Barry has been launched, while the Mayor Vincent Gray and several D.C. council members and Maryland lawmakers have denounced Barry's remarks.

Barry told the Post that his critics need to “get to know Marion Barry and his stellar record on civil rights.”

”I’ve spent the last 50 years of my life fighting for justice and equality of all people,” he told the paper. “Those (critics) don’t know Marion Barry at all. They know my name; they don’t know my record.”

He further cited his outreach efforts to the Asian community, "including a sister city relationship with Beijing, helping to erect the Chinatown Friendship Archway and establishing the city Office of Asian-Pacific Islander Affairs during his four terms as mayor," according to the paper.

Barry then went on to defend his condemnation of Asian businesses.

“Let me make it clear, I’m not castigating any group of people. I’m not doing anything except trying to have a renaissance of our community and get some respect. A number of these restaurants serve high caloric food, bad food, etc., but the more important thing, they don’t participate in the community. ... That’s what I object to, I don’t care who it is."

When The Post asked why he targeted Asians in his remarks, Barry responded, “Because that’s reality. Who owns these little restaurants? Who owns them? You know, Asians. ... Ninety percent of all the small restaurants in Ward 8, at least.”

Noting that the latter statement couldn't be verified, the newspaper further quoted Barry as saying, “We’re spending our money there, and we demand respect. We demand they participate in community affairs. We demand they give jobs to Ward 8 people regardless of their cultural situation. That’s as American as apple pie.”

Barry is no stranger to controversy. In fact, he's a lightning rod for it.

Dogged by allegations of cocaine and alcohol abuse during his first three mayoral terms from 1979 to 1991, Barry was arrested in 1990 after a famously televised police surveillance tape showed him smoking crack in a hotel room. He was sentenced to six months in prison after a possession conviction.

More recently, he has had run-ins with the IRS over his failure to file tax returns and pay taxes. In 2006, he was suspected of driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license in separate incidents. He was found not guilty of the DUI charge, and the state said a computer glitch erroneously reported that Barry's license had been suspended.

In 2002, police said they found "apparent" traces of marijuana and cocaine in Barry's car but didn't arrest him, and in 2009, he was arrested for stalking, a charge prosecutors later dropped.

He reclaimed his seat in the mayor's office in 1995 and was re-elected to the City Council in 2004.

soundoff (740 Responses)
  1. jane s.

    This demonizing of Asians by blacks has been going on for over 30 years. I'm sick of it. They work hard and pay their taxes. Why doesn't Barry and Sharpton go after pimps, drug dealers and old lady muggers like they do hard working Asian immigrants? This is a pattern of demonizing that is as bad as what whites did to blacks.

    April 5, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • ron

      pay taxes... lol... you must not be from an asian family

      April 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Paul Felix Schott

    Why is it not law in every state in the United States of America that if used or sold drugs you can never work for our Country in any forum of Government as a worker. You can not work for the Wicked and still say you are helping people and doing good.
    Drugs in our leaders is sick no wounder they would not want a law to protect the good.
    I guess a lot more of the wicked have gotten into our Government.
    Too many die each year from one of them behind the wheel of a car of truck.
    Then as wicked leaders they try to have their friends cover it up. Till some one good at heart puts it in the spotlight for all to see.

    GOD Bless
    all the Law Enforcement and everyone that helps Stand for the good and may they always stay Good at Heart.

    United We Stand In GOD We Trust
    Not The wicked

    May We Stay one Nation That Stands for GOD and Family then Country. For without GOD and Family we will have no Country.

    The Lord's Little Helper
    Paul Felix Schott

    April 5, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. chrissy

    HOW can anyone be a mayor anywhere with that type of criminal record? Wow! This just boggles my mind that they would elect a known crackhead.

    April 5, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sandi

      Only in DC...although, are you familiar with Ward 8? It's the dirtiest, nastiest, poorest area in the District AND the only place that would re-elect such a disgraceful ass (which is what most of the folks in DC think about him!!!)

      April 5, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I find it hard to believe that the rest of DC thinks of him that way, given that all of DC kept voting him in as mayor...

      April 5, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Loblaw

      It's DC, the freaking nastiest most-disgusting place on the East Coast. I've been there more than once for business, and can't stand it or the people there. Marion is only speaking what his consituants think and say on a daily basis. DC and Baltimore have to be two of the most racist "black" cities in the world. Don't even think about being on the street after dark if you're not black.

      April 9, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jay

    “Because that’s reality. Who owns these little restaurants? Who owns them? You know, Asians. ... Ninety percent of all the small restaurants in Ward 8, at least" How is this not racial?
    So is it racial for me to say that majority of criminals are African Americans and the majority people on welfare are also African Americans? I guess not because this is reality according to this guy?

    April 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • G

      Actually, Jay, 39.7 percent of AFDC clients are Black single mothers and 38.1 percent are White women with children. Food stamp recipients are 37.2 percent Black and 46.2 percent White. Medicaid benefits are paid to 27.5 percent Black recipients compared to 48.5 percent White clients. Most people who are on welfare do so for about 2 years. Many who are on foods stamps are the working poor.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. banasy©

    Not to mention being elected councilman.....what the hell are people thinking when they keep electing guys like Marion Berry?

    April 5, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • ok ace

      Barry gets elected each time because the majority of voters in DC are blacks. He had spent fifty years of his life fighting for justice and equality for blacks.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Sure, okay.
      That's got to it.
      He also looks out for DC's dietary consumption, what with all that high calorie, bad food the Asians sell...
      Ok, ace.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Portland tony

    Big news in DC....but so-what. I'll bet 90% of folks outside the Beltway never heard of him. Even less could care what he says!

    April 5, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • lol

      Portland, Mars?

      April 5, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      Mo' important stuff out here:)

      April 5, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. chrissy

    Youre kidding right Portland Tony? Hes been around and in the news for years. I didnt think he was still in politics anymore tho after his last bust.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      You are probably right..As For me though, my eyes glaze over whenever I see or hear the name.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. chrissy

    lmao @ Portland Tony, yea for sure. Guess anyone can get elected anywhere, if it can happen in our capitol city.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Nyk

    I don't think the shops are dirty because it's own by Asians, i think it's dirty because of the people in Ward 8.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. chrissy

    @ Sandi, no im not familiar with DC at all. And im sure even those people care. Just makes me wonder how its even possible for him to RUN as an elected official given his history. And what were the other options if THIS is WHO they chose?

    April 5, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. kckaaos

    “They ought to go. I just tell you that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

    Translation: "Asians do not sell good cr@ck"

    April 5, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. marv

    There won't be any outrage over this because the Asian community don't care and are too busy running their businesses, taking care of their parents and elderly, and of course, getting those MDs and PhDs.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beadlesaz

      Sadly, so very true.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • tigerlily

      Marv – You are right.

      Mayor Barry's comments about Asians & Asian businesses are ridiculous and racist, and they divide rather than unite the SE community. There are both dirty and clean shops in every town and ethnic communities...the consumers choose where to eat. Many Asian business owners may not participate in civic duties, but they are the ones paying their taxes consistently. They are also using their money to send their children to colleges and graduate schools.

      On your next visit to the emergency rooms, law firms, colleges and other professional centers, take a good look at who is providing you with medical, legal and educational services... professional Asian offsprings of these shopkeepers.

      Yes, I am an Asian health professional, who benefitted from my parents' sacrifices. I provide healthcare to all in my community...poor, rich, insured, uninsured, and all races. It is not our way to march or cry foul. We are too busy taking care of our families, businesses and improving our lives.

      April 7, 2012 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
  13. Mike

    Well I sure hope Al Sharpton and Jess Jackson will come out and defend the Asians and put Barry in his place.
    Wait a minute, Marion Barry is black, not white. Guess we won't be hearing from the reverends.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ann west

    🔴 I know some hateful Whites want to jump on these remarks but Barry disparages us all , whenever he speaks. This type of talking between the lines is cowardice and proves nothing. Asian leaders should complain , not Jessie or Sharpton .

    April 5, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • shut_up

      ann west, shut up you racist sheep creep.

      whites jump on this? LOL we are tired of your hoodies. i like the asians better than i like you as they dont whine every minute.
      the blacks have a history month?? i guess the whites should have the rest since we invented everything you maggot.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • ann west

      🔴 🔴 🔴 🔴 🔴 🔴 🔴🔴 🔴 🔴🔴 🔴 🔴🔴 🔴 🔴
      Shut_up lol lol lol . Asians may try to pretend they are great citizens but
      While white people are PROFILING black kids in hoodies , Asian Guys are murdering everybody in sight. This is the 6th High profile shooting by an Asian guy: Virginia Tech, Binghamton School, Oikos in Oakland, Simon's Rock College Bard, Armed Bank Robberies in Pacific Palisades and Saehan Bank in Buena Park . No more excuses and SAT stereotypes .....Asian Guys like to shoot up stuff and Kill innocent People. 
      🔴 🔴 🔴 🔴 🔴 🔴🔴 🔴 🔴🔴 🔴 🔴🔴 🔴 🔴

      April 6, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. will

    Marion Barry, the epitome of a disgraceful human being, for so many years and in so many ways.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beadlesaz

      So very true.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
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