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. Dave

    Another racist black man who can say whatever he wants and get away with it. The Chinese should march now and demand he step down like the blacks do when a white person makes a comment about them.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • dhondi

      Where is al sharpton!!?!?

      April 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      Where is the outrage. Where is Revs. Jackson & Sharpton now???
      Racism is racism regardless if black, white, hispanic, or Asian

      April 6, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • t t

      He's not a racist he is a realist......he say's what everyone else is thinking and to afraid to say........come to Ward 8 and see for yourself, then make your comment on if he is a racist or not......#openyoureyes

      April 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • jj

      Dave – the Chinese don't have time to march and demonstrate like blacks do. The Chinese actually work for a living.

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

    We are smarter then you plus we never smoked crack.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Grammar

      Smarter "than" you...not then.

      April 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. El Duderino (if you're not into the whole brevity thing)

    I would ask him, "What are you smoking?" but I already know the answer to that.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Johnson Huffman

    As an Asian, I admit a lot of Asian carry out are pretty dirty. Hygiene is a true problem for many Asian shops. But I don't see it a problem for these shops to survive and even grow in a black neighborhood, taking their jobs. The main reason is a lot of black people are never planning to work hard as Asians. They plan to profit from the slavery victim status given by the main stream society. They plan to trash their lives and get angry at others. They plan to live on welfare and complain about how ignored they get from others. However Marion Barry say "need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places", if your brothers and sisters are never planning to be business people, what can you do?

    April 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • t t

      Are you Afican-American? Have you ever tried to get a small business loan....don't catagorize the many for the few you know. I have been working since i was 13 and have a very good work ethic. Smalled minded individuals like yourself don't try to work with less fortunate people to educate and train then to establish great work ethic. You see balck and think automatic fail. #getreal

      April 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. palintwit

    If I had won the Mega Millions Lotto it was my intention to give half to catholic priests and the other half to Sarah Palin's political action committee, or SARAH PAC for short.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Christine

    Just another liberal who thinks he's important and being black he can say anything without regret. Let a white person say what Barry said and he'd be assaulted by the news media! Another racist in office feeding off their poor!

    April 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Johnson Huffman

    Take the recent Trayvon Martin case, Marion Barry, go to the hood and try to talk to a hoodie teenage. Look how your same race black boy beat the crap out of you. Do you think they will be black business people? Do you think they want to work hard? No one discriminate against your skin color. But no one is blind to what you do to others. RESPECT YOURSELF AND YOU WILL BE RESPECTED BY OTHERS!

    April 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • t t

      You truley need to get a grip with reality!

      April 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. idiocracy

    i wonder if he would want the african-american 'business people' to open fried chicken restaurants or maybe a kool-aid stand. even better, why not combine the two like they're doing with some establishments these days...one side sells the chicken, the other side sells the kool-aid. on the opening day, every 10th customer gets a free fat white chick and a coupon for a free paternity test. not only that, but in the back parking lot, you'll have your own personal street pharmacist refilling your scripts as you chow down. and i have the perfect name for this place..."My Mastah's Chiken & Kool-Aid". but please, don't take this comment out of context, i'm only saying more african-americans need to be in these establishments...

    April 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • t t


      April 6, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DIEGO

    dirty communities deserves dirty politicians and dirty shops. always blame others for your skin color.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Johnson Huffman

    And about the "dirty shop" comments. I bike through black neighborhood. The Asian "dirty shop" is actually maintaining the similar level of hygiene standard as the surrounding environment. Go to a common shopping mall and Asian shops are similar to other shops. If you concern about hygiene, check how your people in the hood looks like. With all your smell and never showered hair and never clean clothing, "clean shops" won't take you.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • t t

      you are a typical close minded person who would rather sit back and just shake your head then go out and shake a hand and find out the truth about "THESE" people you are referring to. Be Positive set examples.......#mentor

      April 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dennis

    Consider the source!!!

    April 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. R.J. Evangelista

    So, what record are we familiar with, the Voting or the Criminal?? Ya, he'll win again in DC I am sure. More corrupt than Chicago, and look what the hell crawled out of that city to the "top" political joke of an office this Once Great country NOW has.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Fan The Flames

    What a racist. He fights for the "rights" of African Americans alone...and degrades Asians in the process, what a load of racist garbage! I don't see how this guy is in office.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Nellore Venkataraman

    Typical comment from a corrupt, drug addict and a pimp.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Richard

    He spent 50 years fighting for civil rights? Give me a break. He has spent his whole life being a political hack and searching for drugs.

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