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. BBCue

    Barry's just acting up because he realizes he may be next face down in a tub.

    Where Whitney had Bobby Brown to bring her down, Marion Barry had celebrity status.

    April 6, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chrome48

      WHat about the pricees the blacks charge for crack nowadays. Its outrageous.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:20 am | Report abuse |
  2. Alcabiades

    Racism is racism .. .no matter what color blanket it hides under .... if they elect him as their "representative" .. .then they deserve just what they will get.

    April 6, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Holla

    Bravo, Marion Barry. It's about time someone spoke on this subject!

    April 6, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeff

      I am sure no Asian ever prevented any Black from starting a business in a Black neighborhood. So why talk about Asians when he should only be mentioning the issue why Blacks are not taking the initiative to start their own business? It is too easy to play the victim. Don't blame others but look at yourself first for answers.

      April 6, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Devoneco

    I think this man just did the biggest injustice to his fellow black people living in this area. Which Asian business will ever hire any black person now after this stupid remark he made? Moreover, he's stirring up racial unrest as well.

    April 6, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. ct

    Ignorant blacks voting in even more ignorant black politicians. Its a race that is self destructing and they don't have the sense to stop it.

    April 6, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. tigerlily

    Mayor Barry's comments about Asians & Asian businesses are ridiculous and racist, and they divide rather than unite the SE community. There are both dirty and clean shops in every town and ethnic communities...the consumers choose where to eat. Many Asian business owners may not participate in civic duties, but they are the ones paying their taxes consistently. They are also using their money to send their children to colleges and graduate schools.

    On your next visit to the emergency rooms, law firms, colleges and other professional centers, take a good look at who is providing you with medical, legal and educational services... professional Asian offsprings of these shopkeepers.

    Yes, I am an Asian health professional, who benefitted from my parents' sacrifices. I provide healthcare to all in my community...poor, rich, insured, uninsured, and all races. It is not our way to march or cry foul. We are too busy taking care of our families, businesses and improving our lives.

    April 6, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Tully

    Tigerlily Rules.... Asians Rule, because they are willing to work hard and sacrifice personal gain for the larger good of their friends and Families. PS, I'm not Asian, I just see how most of them are, and have been in our community for the past 20 years, consistantly. We have several who work in my Co, and they are Friends as well as model employees in every way, at, and outside of work. Too bad more PPL can't be more like them.

    April 7, 2012 at 12:35 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. kensington

    I can remember my Dad and thousands of other black men being forced to leave a house full of children to go to Korea and fight for a criminal south korean regime . Koreans repaid African Americans by immigrating to America and openining liqour stores in black neighborhoods, next to schools, and further developed into the worst form of racists in the Asian community, Marion barry owes these racist people zero!

    April 7, 2012 at 12:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Free CD Burner

    I get pleasure from, lead to I found exactly what I was having a look for. You have ended my four day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

    April 7, 2012 at 3:18 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. jefe

    I am a native of Anacostia, spent my early childhood there and my father's family is ethnic Asian. As I young adult I again lived in Washington, DC when Marion Barry was mayor and when the Beijing friendship arch was raised in Chinatown. I used to know personally a few of the recent Asian immigrants who operated businesses in the Anacostia. I have since moved away, but still visit Anacostia if I am ever in DC and have personally witnessed the evolution in Anacostia over the past several decades.

    It is very understandable why African-American residents of Ward 8 are very upset about the current situation and Marion Barry appears to be in touch with their sentiments. His description may be a bit intense and exaggerated, but nevertheless, largely true. However, he has completely misfired the target of the problem.

    Ward 8 is disenfranchised on so many levels. The police are not very concerned about security there and do not provide a safe and healthy environment for businesses to thrive. The Food Safety and Hygiene Inspection service does not pay as much attention to businesses there as much as they do in the popular tourist and business areas. Banks and other credit organizations have shunned the area, removing sources of credit for potential business owners. Most of the city and metro residents, including whites and upper and middle class blacks, as well as university educated and American born Asians also do not engage in that neighborhood much at all. They probably fear things like lack of police protection and social and infrastructure services. That leaves groups such as immigrant Asian groups to provide the most basic of products and services that residents would spend what little money they have on, eg, food, alcohol, tobacco and check / money order cashing. Immigrant Asian groups can tap into resources outside the mainstream system, their friends, family and ethnic organizations for needed credit as well as business training and advice. For cultural and social reasons, they are not well equipped to engage the community at a level beyond the basic provision of the services they have learned to provide (by tapping into their networks).

    Marion Barry cannot fight to expel these people without providing a framework to replace them. The situation would even be worse. What he needs to fight for is better police protection, better provision of city services (eg, inspection), and the provision of credit and training in the community. When I was a child there used to be banks in Anacostia - what happened to them all? If police provided better protection, there would be less need to fit all the service counters with bullet proof windows and entertainment, shopping and dining could be much more pleasant.

    Finally, Councilman Barry could engage his ward to form credit unions, even microcredit ones. If banks have abandoned the area, replace them with something else. Form a Task force to engage Asian-American business owners with the community. Organize workshops to teach local residents about running a business and getting credit and to teach Asian-American merchants how to provide a greater range of services. Let the Asian-American business owners SHARE their experience with the residents - after all, they DO have experience running businesses there. Teach Asian-American business owners how to engage more fully with the community - it could start with something as simple as sponsoring a youth athletic team or arranging someone to teach martial arts classes in the community.
    Councilman Barry, we know you are frustrated, but you need these people to build the community. Take advantage of that and don't just seek to expel them!

    April 7, 2012 at 5:19 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • mewilbur

      The most intelligent comment I've read. You have excellent ideas. It sounds like security meaning plenty of police presence is a high priority. Without security none of the rest can come about.

      April 7, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  11. mewilbur

    It looks like no race or ethnic group has a lock on racism or racial profiling. What is preventing blacks from opening businesses in Barry's ward?

    April 7, 2012 at 9:04 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • jefe

      I think I mentioned some of these
      - lack of credit and financing for small businesses in the neighborhood
      - lack of training and experience in running businesses
      - lack of security, social services and infrastructure to support safe and secure business operations
      - shunned by banks and credit organizations.
      - shunned by larger chain stores which could open branches there
      - shunned by middle-class and upper middle-class blacks (and whites and American-educated Asians as well) who theoretically would have the money or experience to open up stores there.

      Immigrant Asians with little US education and a lack of fluency in English have limited livelihood opportunities in the USA. But they can tap into sources of credit and experience that operate outside of the mainstream system. Since they are less concerned about what mainstream society thinks of them, they are less deterred by it also. They may realize that there is a lack of security and in many cases, have to figure out a way to provide it themselves (eg, bulletproof windows). Their customers do not have a lot to spend, so they do not have as much to spend on the furnishings and hygiene, esp. if they have to spend more on security measures. They do not have as much knowledge of US society and still follow other cultural norms, making it difficult to engage directly in the community. Still, there is an economic need in society for items as basic as food, and can still find a way to fill that niche abandoned by the rest of society.

      Councilman Barry should enlist their help and engage them to build the community. If they are expelled, ward 8 will even be in worse shape. Start establishing alternative credit and financing options, arrange to have the residents receive training, encourage the business owners to share their experience with the community and teach them how to engage the community to everyone's benefit and make sure that the security, inspection, schools, infrastructure and transportation services are there to help a variety of businesses thrive.

      April 9, 2012 at 6:28 am | Report abuse |
  12. Malik Ali El-Shabbazz

    you people with these jokes take away from serious discussions. You people are the reason why society is so degraded., your ignorant hate, your ignorant ignorance, and your ignorant intolerance to intelligent discussion shows your stupidity.

    I like to read the comments almost as much as i like to read the articles.. it reinforces my belief that you whites and others with nothing substantive to say, will say anything because no one will listen to you offline...

    please, for the love of what's good.., add to the value of life and stop making asses of yourselves.

    April 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • marcus

      you my fine feathered friend should look in the mirror while repeating your looping rhetoric

      April 7, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. John

    So a Convicted felon and Racist is allowed to remain in office in DC and say whatever he feels. If a politician of another race said that about African Americans they would be forced to resigned and more than likely riots would start. This is proof to how screwed up D.C. is.

    Now you have to figure out who is more ignorant the Politician or the People who continue to vote for him? You wonder why SE D.C remains one of the most dangerous areas in the country? Here is your answer. Hard to clean up a city with Felon in charge

    April 7, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. marcus

    I really cannot even understand how this guy has any creditability about anything. he is first not the sharpest knife in the drawer, laughed on hidden camera about buying weight (for resale) and is busted and convicted. but what the hey.. his 'followers' elect him to public office again and everyone wonders why people have the opinions they have.

    April 7, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. JAMES

    He noo good brack man!

    April 7, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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