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. gerald

    There is no way this was a racist remark, he's not white. The only racist remarks can come from whites right?
    We need to understand right? Stay calm, don't overreact right? Let the facts come out, right? No need to protest and riot, right? That stuff is not acceptable. Any black person knows this....right?

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

      I find that people who think it's only racist if a white person does it are usually just as racist as people who believe there are many people out there that think only white people can be racist. The latter type of people usually deny the existence of racism and overcompensate their denial by trying to make up false accusations such as saying that people don't believe a minority can be racist. Straw man argument much?

      April 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Richard

    Read up on Toronto's Chinatown health department raids, the vermin, the garbage and the food poisoning incidents.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bernard

    I live in DC - this guy is not fit to serve in government. It's incredibly sad he was even elected into office.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    Barry's political "success" is a clear cut example of how easy it is to pull the wool over the eyes of the poor, and uneducated. After electing this fool for various public offices time after time Southeast DC continues to drift deeper into blight with it's predominantly poor and uneducated populace clinging and scrambling to remain above water. He then continues to ignore blight, drain the community for private favors and employment, all while PRETENDING to do things that foster growth.

    People like him are the THIRD greatest destroyer of african-americans. Second only to the those who willfully perpetuate negative stereotypes, and those who participate and accept it as "black urban culture".

    By the way, trailer park republicans suffer from the same problems and clammer to support the very same type of deadbeat career politicians.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. eeyor

    ...ok mr mayor...go back in your office and take youre drugs...errr...meds and come out to play afterwards...i sure hope this guys remembers what culture stands for...they quote it all the time...

    April 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Risse

    It's funny how all of you cowards talk all this nonsense behind a computer screen knowing d!@# well you wouldn't dare say any of this to a black person's face. Oh wait, you would try to "stand your ground" I suppose. If the shops are dirty, the shops are dirty oh well get over it. You all are mad because a black man publicly exposed it. You white people are dirty too with your trailor trash trailor parks, your red-neck hillbillies, and your child molesting priests! And please believe I'll say all of this to your faces!!!

    April 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • EKIA

      Why would we not say this to a black person's face? Would we be afraid of a violent response from a black person? Would we be justified in that fear? Let's just all be honest and admit that everyone has the capacity for racism. Including you and both your and Mayor Barry's remarks are racist.

      April 6, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Primo

      Are you defending him cuz he's black? Or cuz you think he's right? I'm saying this through my computer and I would say this to your face as well. And when I do say it to your face or any other venue, I will be civil about it and polite. There is a dark side in all cultures and society.

      April 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • jj

      Risse – Most people don't stand up to blacks because blacks are like dogs. Why would you take the time to stand up to an untrained dog when it is only an animal? An undomesticaed animal's reaction is wild, just like a black person's reaction. Most blacks are like untrained dogs because they are poor and uneducated, therefore, have nothing to lose. On the other hand, I have many things I can lose if I get into a fight with a black person, or any other persons that can be likened to untrained wild dogs.

      April 6, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Heartless

    If they want a clean neighborhood, try not tossing trash everywhere. If they want respect then stop the stealing, robbing, and the loud mouth. Blaming other people would never fix their problem. Look at the crime, education statistics and the world's view of black people. Somali piracy, Rwanda, Darfur, Haiti are examples of uncivilized, inhumane behavior. The world is not perfect but why is the majority of African race everywhere fares the worse? Racism is experienced by the Asians and others too, but why they are able to better themselves? Black in America have the financial support from social services, but most do not use it in a positive way. People like Marion Barry are the reason why respect can not be given. I wouldn't be surprised if he blames his drug addiction and stupidity on someone else.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • EKIA

      Can anyone think of a predominantly black country anywhere in the world that is a desirable place to live?

      April 6, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. lreed

    Unreal – The people who voted this guy in have only themselves to blame. Clearly a racist and not a good representative of our government or the African American community. If a white man -particularly if he were a Southern white man, had made those statements about African American's, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would have a field day with it. If Obama can comment about the Zimmerman killing "If I had a son, he would look like Trayyvon", then he should comment about Barry, declare him a racist and ask him to step down. Barry is a walking time bomb. Again, the fine people of DC voted him in, so too bad. Unreal.

    April 6, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Don Johnson

    The reason all those business' are owned by asians is simply because the asians were more ambitious and had the work ethic.

    Honestly think about it. All those african american business people he speaks of were most likely born and raised in this country – the generations before them as well.

    The asians come immigrate to over and immediately open up shop and contribute to society. If you're born, raised and educated in the country, speak the language... basically given a head start(compared to immigrants), how do you lose your shop space?

    This guy is yet another racist black man who will go un-noticed because he is black. I want to see Rev. Sharpton or Jackson speak up and condemn him. Where's Barry Obama?

    Thats what you get when you elect a crack head.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Webhoncho

    I suppose we need to give the guy a break. I hear this is what happens when you graduate to crack..

    April 6, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. lreed

    @ Risse – nicely said. You are right, and all these racist comments make me sick. We are HUMAN BEINGS first, and AMERICANS second, male or female third. We have a hell of a lot more in common that we have differences.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • EKIA

      Risse's comments are the most racist thing on this thread.

      April 6, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bill

    WTH do black folk keep voting idiots like this into office? You wonder why people think you are of a lesser intelligence.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • EKIA

      Issues don't matter only race. BHO is a prime example.

      April 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. jo mama

    instead of focusing on the dirty shops, how about focus on cleaing up the ghetto communties and it's ppl. cause a nice restaurant in the middle of a ghetto just wouldn't look right.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. iggles11

    The Black community should demand his ouster, headed by Sharpton and the Rev. Jackson....... LOL.... let's see that happen.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. U-embarrass-me_Barry

    African-Americans like Marion Barry help bigots feel comfortable in their bigot suits. He does a disservice to the memories of all those, whites, blacks and others, who fought so hard for equality during the Civil Rights Movement. He makes a mockery of everything Dr. King and others who fought and died before him stood for. He should be inviting a mixture of cultures into his communities, along with Asians and anybody else, rather than trying to become the exclusive like so many southern whites once did against blacks. Barry is a fools fool for making such a remark and all people, blacks especially, should denounce his words. He's basically using the same strategy that have gotten people who look like him chased from cities and towns all through and during the segregated south. Blacks like Marion Barry make it difficult for fellow blacks who suffer discrimination and bigotry on a daily basis in this country.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • longtooth

      Barry is a gifted politician, lucky enough to campaign in areas where his BS is effective. I don't think Dr Martin Luther King would want to be in the same room with him.

      April 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
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