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. Jim Stanek

    I wonder if Marionberry's hypothetical son would look like Trayvon as well...

    April 5, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jim Stanek

    The head TSA chief of operations had this to say...."Sheeit."


    April 5, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. HailSatan666

    Strong words, coming from the mouth of a crack smoker.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jim Stanek

    You so lacist! No wonda you so ronery! Why is evwyone so f–king stoopid?

    April 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Suleiman the Magnificent

      As pel lecent discovelies, it is all in the jeans

      April 6, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • A stranger who finds you offensive

      You are a stupid and pathetic person jim stank

      April 6, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • jimbo

      Jim Stink, not stank.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      hey Dick,
      I bet their English is better than your Chinese...

      April 6, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • ug


      April 6, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • kuewa

      Your comment indicates that you are both racist and intellectually impaired.

      April 6, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Disgusted

      You're such a lame pollack!! Get some grammar skills.

      April 6, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. HoChiMin

    Someone had to say it: Modern Day Jews. The Slanted Eye Version. – Sponsored by Asians helping Asians, Inc.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • A stranger who finds you offensive

      Nobody had to say that, and you are an idiot.

      April 6, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jim Stanek

    Meanwhile, Marion Barry's cousin, Logan, had this to say: "Where is all da white ladies at?" Marion's brother, Black, also chimed in: "Sheeit."

    April 5, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Asians

    Asians have come to this country and become the highest per capita income group. Blacks have been here for generations and still whine and cry and are the poorest group.Cannot balms them though.Genetically they have the lowest IQ among all races.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Stanek

      Damn straight! And phrenology has also proven your point about their low IQs.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dodd, T

      Unfortunately ,we can't count you in the "high income" group. Now, go back to sweeping your trailer; don't forget the meth pipe under the table..

      April 6, 2012 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  8. lonestarmango

    Berry can try to spin this as best as he can but the truth is in the video. The arrogance is obvious. How can this miscreant point fingers at the Asian shopkeepers when, under his "stewardship" Ward 8 has gone in the toilet. People have evacuated, the poverty rate has risen, food stamp recipients have increased, property crimes have increased, and violent crimes remain at alarming levels.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. swiv

    provide a better product and better customer service, and maybe those asians will go away.


    like THAT will happen.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bad Food

    Right! Cocaine and alcohol is much healthier than Chinese food.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Stanek

      Most relevant blazing saddles paraphrase: "The councilman is a BONG! The councilman is a BONG!"

      Maybe Marion can serve some uh dat chicken raps fum Burger King, at da neks coumsell meeting. Sheeit.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Frank sweep

    Marion wasn't being racist, bc bl. Ax can't be racist. They are only sufferers of racism against them....

    April 5, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Stanek

      dass right dass right. de only racists be da white man. Secksual choclate!

      April 5, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Really?

    Really? If a white person had made that statement, Al Sharpton would have been the first one in line asking that the individual be removed from public office. BUT, since it's Marion Barry, a black individual, NO ONE has really said "boo!" about it. Hmmmm....... The citizens of Washington, DC / Ward 8 should be EMBARRASSED to have someone like Marion Barry representing them. Are they really better off today than they were before he came into public office? Puhleeze!

    April 5, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. PhilG.

    After a lifetime of being in the public eye,of being involved in some of the most famous and infamous events in our nations recent history the real fact here is that Marion Barry is simply getting old.

    Old as in his age is getting up there.

    Have any of you had a uncle or grand father that simply went on a tear about something totally unacceptable to the general public?

    Yea,you have.

    Only Marion Barry has people up his rearend almost every second of every day.

    Give the guy a break.

    He was having a dim moment and he misspoke.

    That's not how he really feels.

    Hang in there.Marion,I'm human and I make mistakes too.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Stanek

      Sheeit, brother, good old Marion Barry is da black Strom Thurmond. Sheeit.

      April 5, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • LMAO

      and i bet george zimmerman was really say goon.

      yea, right.

      April 5, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. um

    if he did anything he would snort them

    April 5, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patricia

      Why does Marion Barry have to apologize for telling the truth? What he said is a fact. 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.

      When you visit the Asian community, Asians own the businesses, and they live in their community. When you visit the White community, Whites own the businesses, and they live in their community. When you visit the Hispanic community, Hispanics own the businesses, and they live in their community. When you visit the Arab community, Arabs own the businesses, and they live in their community. When you visit the African community, everyone except Africans own the businesses, AND THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE BUSINESSES DO NOT LIVE IN THE AFRICAN COMMUNITY. They take their profits back to their community.

      "Slavery has been abolished only on paper". We need more African leaders like Marion Barry.

      "In a time of Deceit, telling the Truth is a Revolutionary Act", George Orwell

      April 5, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jim Stanek

    Marion "Strom Thurmond" Barry strikes again, negus. Sheeit.

    April 5, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
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