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. Don

    “Those (critics) don’t know Marion Barry at all. They know my name; they don’t know my record.”

    says Mr. Crackhead.

    April 6, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Respect

    Quote from Patricia:
    "Whenever you go into the African community, other people own the stores, and most of the other businesses in the African community. The African community is the only community where this is allowed."

    Have you ever been to a fully black owned business? If you get a chance, visit one sometime before it gets shutdown for violations or bankrupted from poor employees and mismanagement. There is a reason there are not many of them in urban areas, and it's because of atrocious employees, horrible management, and customer service that would make you sick to your stomach.

    Even most black people do not frequent black owned businesses, because they are a cesspool of filth, failure, and mismanagement.

    April 6, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. DLO

    let me say this, as a chinese person myself, I think that asian shops in general are pretty dirty and i do not find his comment in any way offensive. as I said, asian shops are dirty IN GENERAL. in no way does that mean that every asian shop is dirty and I don't think marion means every asian shop is dirty either. people should calm down about stuff like this. eventually, we'll be unable to say anything because everything is offensive to something.

    April 6, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Roberto

    It' ok Marion. We all know that black folks are all fine outstanding productive citizens of this country while the freking Asians are the scourge of society. It's onlt fair we replace these Asians by blacks as you so eloquently put it.
    All you have to do is look at our prison population vs university students. Clearly Asians are the predominant race in prison and blacks are predominant at Harvard, MIT and all universities in the US!!!
    YEEAAHH!!!!! let's! get rid of them squinty eyed dirty g00ks!

    April 6, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. WOW

    Really people? Replacing 'r' with 'l'? This is why Asians don't give you respect. This is why Asian immigrants isolate themselves. If the black community wants to open businesses, then more power to them, but it doesn't mean the Asian businesses have to go. Should some of them need to be more clean? Sure. I can agree with that. But you know what happens when they get their stores all nice and shiney? Some punk comes and spray-paints all over it.

    April 6, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jonp

    yes, excellent idea mr. mayor. let's replace all of the hard working asian business owners with lazy, crack smoking, good-for-nothings. you gotta love d.c.

    April 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ana

    what a d-bag, who will elect these kinds people to office, tell african-americans to stay in school and then go to college, not work in grocery stores.

    April 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mimi

    @ Kevin "kevin

    yeah that was racist remark no matter how you look at it. here's how you can tell with this easy racial litmus test.

    1- replace Marion Barry in the picture with any NON-black politician or figure head
    2 – have that person give the exact speech and replace the word "asian" with black... "We've got to do something about these blacks coming in..."

    The only problem I have with your statement is that non-blacks do and say the things you have mentioned, the only difference is it's done behind closed doors and not in the public. Example, you would likely not make your comparison in a discussion with other peole not like you so you feel comfortable enough to make the statements w/in the safety of a computer. Whether a man says it or thinks it, in his heart thought and action are equivalent.

    April 6, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jb

    He should put down the pipe.

    April 6, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Boston Dawg

    Wow a convicted felon who likely cannot read or write is wondering why hardworking people own businesses as opposed to the people that occupy 60% of the cells in our correctional facilities, the people that birth 70% of their children out of wedlock, drop out of high school 50% of the time and feel like life has passed them by if they have not started their family by age 16 and or have not done time by them..... hmmmmm... yeah Barry has a point..... LMFAO..... speaking of which, let's have a series of rallies and marches saying that we want to live in a society where we do not have to include the phrases "neighborhood watch" and "generational welfare" as part of our everyday nomenclature...... there was a million man march (really only 700,000 because 300,000 were denied parole) that was supposed to change everything but if anything things have gotten worse..... but of course we have to be politically correct and make sure that the real problems in this country never ever get addressed.... so we just keep blaming someone else for the problems in the black communities

    April 6, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Johnny Boy

    Advice for the Blacks,Hispanics,Whites,Asians,Yellow,Red:
    Work hard and smart; Brings you success..
    Talk Hard and Stupid; Brings you Down..

    April 6, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dre

    I'm black and I agree that the comments were out of line, but the underlying message is true. I'm born and raised in DC and there are Asian owned liquor stores and carry outs in every block in Ward 8. Many of these owners do not serve any healthy alternatives (e.g. salads) and the restaurants are filthy. They do nothing to help improve the communities that support their families. Many of the owners are extremely rude and will cheat you out of every nickel if possible. However, this doesn't apply to all shops as there are a select few that are very accommodating.

    The racist comments on this board are amazing. You must be very insecure to spend your time hating an entire race or races. There are problems in the black community but there are problems in every community. I've been in trailer parks that are as bad as any inner city hood. When poverty hits, it doesn't recognize color it's hits everyone equally.

    April 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      So. What type of food would a restaurant serve owned by a black person in Ward 8? And let's be real – an asian person is likely more willing to work a menial job for low income than others. Barry demands to give jobs to Ward 8 ppl – he should demand Ward 8 ppl to step up their work ethic.

      April 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tinman

    I remember him reaching out to the Arab community.

    April 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Asch13

    This guy needs to take a one way hike to another planet. What a racist SOB (I cleaned that up – LOL)

    April 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. karl

    These articles are tools for people to show their ignorance, hate and desire to judge others. I read comments and it is just people attacking each other based upon stereotypes. Instead of trying to find things that make us different, we as humans should realize we are really the same. It makes some people feel better about themselves to put others down. If we were all one race we would find some other differences to hate someone else or put them down so we could feel superior. Categorizing based upon race is a way to oppress someone else. Each individual should be looked at based upon their individual merits and character. Shame on all of us.

    April 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • MalcolmXcrement

      Speak for yourself. I am NOTHING like this racist, crack smoking creep.

      He speaks for racists in his district. The very people who voted him in instead of bouncing him out!!

      April 6, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
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