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. L.J. Rhodes

    How he could even try to defend his comments is beyond me. Let's say another councilman said this:

    “We've got to do something about these blacks coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops. They ought to go. I just tell you that right now, you know. But we need white businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

    What would his take on such rhetoric be then? Would he still think such speech is justified?

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

      If you use the term white in a paragraph where you mention other races you are being racist. JK.

      April 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. glyder

    one good thing about this.he is mayor of d.c.could there be a better fit?trash on trash.anyone not black should leave d.c. asap.let barry have his sheep and ghetto.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      He's running for councilman in one district (8th) of D.C.. Large portions of D.C. are quite affluent, however the affluent areas tend to not be as population dense as the Southeast so, numerically, the statistics get dragged down.

      April 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blackfoot

      It is agreed that in America , the poor get poorer and the Rich get Richer...it should also be agreed that People who make money off a community should be willing to give back to that community, How would it be like if people came from another country went to work in America and sent every last penny of that money back to another country? This is happens a lot here in America, people work and make a good living in the downtown areas of the cities and states, but they take all that money to other areas you see it in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Kentucky residents work in Ohio and take all the wages back to Kentucky , you see it in the fire and police departments where most of the employees work in the inner city areas but do not live there and think themselves superior to the people they are suppose to be working for, they feel that these underclass people are less educated and less cultured than them so they take the "them and us" way of thinking they do not know or want to know anybody in the areas in which they work, they fear the very people they are suppose to be working for, they live far from where they make a living and they want nothing to do with the very people who pay their salaries , yes they even hate these people, It should be a city policy that unless you live in the city that jobs should not be given to those people, and if that is not possible that taxes or a tariff should be in place that a percentage of their salary or profits should go to the areas in which they work OR if they own business in those areas that they have to hire and train a percent of people from that area, God Hates Ugly, The true should set you free.

      April 6, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. wow

    blatantly racist...an embarrassment to our race

    April 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. iggles11

    Obama just made a statement "If I new my Dad, he would look just like Marion Barry".

    April 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. pglac

    i am asian, yeah, many of my people's shops are dirty... in the black's dirty neighborhoods

    April 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blackfoot

      So If I understand this right, that means that you can sell people stuff that you would not sell to your own people or your wife or children or grand children because you think you are better than the people you are making a living off of? I feel you or your parents came to America for a better life, you had very little to nothing were you and yours came from, you got here , you worked hard and you made it to the middle class or above, you call yourself a Republican and you think yourself better than the people you make a living off of, you and yours sell to the people who have no choice but to buy from you because they have no choice but to do so...One of these days , these dirty people are going to wake up and figure out that they don't have to buy from you. they are going to start going to other stores where the quality of food and items are not dirty, they are going to get on buses or drive to other areas and buy things, they are going to start reporting you and your dirty places to the health department , they are going to demand that you do the right thing and stop treating them like second class citizens, you came here for a better life and you and yours are living that better life, if you believe there is a hell , that hell has a place for you when you die, because you are evil and you think you are better than the people you profit from by selling dirty , inferior stuff, you think you are better than the people you sell to? You think you are better because you live in a better area and you drive a better car and you eat a better meal and you wear a better quality of clothes? I hope you believe in heaven and hell, because if you do I know and you know that people like you can only go one place when you die and that sir is HELL! People like you usually die alone and hated by your own kind , because they see the evil in you and yours, I know you very well, I can see the hate in your eyes and the fear of people who have done you no wrong, they trust you and they buy stuff from you and you talk down to them you think them worthless, but you take their money and you think yourself superior, but you and I know that in the country that you came from or your parents came from that you where consider low class, you could not marry out of your class, you could not live in the other areas of the town, you had little or nothing, you and family lived at the bottom of the class system and you and yours knew that the only chance you had to move up was to come to America, and even here in America you are still the underclass, You and yours will never be accepted by your own people because of your class you know it and I know it , even with the money you have you can not go back from were you came from and marry a women of class, not you not your children or your grand children will ever be good enough to marry out of your class NEVER, you know it and I know it, so in order to feel better about yourself you want to look down on others and think yourself better than the people you make a living off of , I know you well, do you have no shame sir!

      April 6, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Primo

    If you close your eyes and listen to the speech. It sounds like a KKK rally. There's no difference. Just racism.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dave

    Had a white councilman said this, it would be the top story.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Kim Lee

    He no welcome in my shop now!

    April 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mike

    Wait..he did not say, " look at my track record?" As a councilman, that is your duty to be all for civil rights. Those racial stereotypes are not okay for him to say. That is the crack talking from years ago. Oh wait. He did cocaine too? Just because he got into a government position dont mean #$^%&!! He is a typical American with a power trip. Oh and other "black business owners" give back to the community as well? Bulls@#$%!! They are the first group to cheat taxes and money launder to cousins who sell drugs.. Yeah give back to the community in the form of a government check..

    April 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. sd

    If youve even been to the northeast market in baltimore you will see a whole bunch of mostly korean venders selling fried chicken, chinese food, sandwiches, chitterings, hot dogs. Its really good and ive never been sick from eating it. My coworkers and I from Johns hopkins go there every day to eat. And the place is littering crawling during lunch. barry cant be more wrong!

    April 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bob Allen

    He is black and a lib, he can say anything he wants, no one will care.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jw

    Ummm – it's Marion Barry. They expected better? From crack to racism this has been his M.O. for years, and they (D.C.) keep electing him. You got what you asked for...

    April 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. krelldog

    no fry rice for him

    April 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Eboniteprice

    Why would anybody pay attention to this crack addict anyway.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. James

    He no good brack man.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gomez the Gipsy Guy

      hah haha

      April 6, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • A stranger who finds you offensive

      you are a stupid and pathetic person

      April 6, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      You sound like a Korean. Hahaha.

      April 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      I meant James sounds like a Korean the way he wrote.

      April 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe-Wilmington, DE

      He big dumb round-eye brack man. Why he keep getting erected? He big dumb crack-head too!

      April 6, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe-Wilmington, DE

      Sadly, with few exceptions, I don't see many of my brothas opening shops - too many days of long hours - by thier own words. Asians are willing to put the time in. Further, Blacks who do open shops, like thier Asian counterparts, work too hard for thier money - would likewise tell Barry to go to Hades with his unwanted and unfounded opinions about community shop owners..

      April 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
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