City Desk

Marion Barry’s Apology Goes Slightly Awry

Marion Barry Apologizes for Asian Remarks

Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry held his second meeting with members of the Asian-American community today in a Baptist church off Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, where he was expected to apologize for his previous remarks disparaging Filipino nurses and Asian owned businesses.

Unfortunately, we can't tell you firsthand whether he actually did, since he didn’t let the media in to see the apology when it happened.

Before the meeting started, though, we spoke with Marissa Usman, a registered nurse and president of the Philippine Nurses Association in D.C. “We just want him to acknowledge the Filipino nurses,” Usman told us. And not just the Filipino ones. “There are professionals, skilled nurses, there are all over Washington D.C. area and they are the nurses serving his community.”

When Barry appeared, he asked for the chairs to be arranged in a circle. His aides and others present—including Asian-American community representatives—shuffled and dragged the chairs toward the councilmember who sat down and began speaking to those around him. Soon, though, after a few photographs were taken, he asked that no media be allowed to for the meeting.

Reporters hung out in the hallway, pressing their ears to the door now and then. A woman's voice could be heard complaining that stores owned by Asians were “filthy” and giving people “disease.”

Eventually, Barry aides taped the doors up with white paper.

Well into the meeting, the media was allowed back in. More pictures were taken, and finally, Barry took the podium up on the stage, standing next to Usman of the Philippine Nurses Association.

According to Barry, there was at least dialogue between Asian-American and African-American voices in the community. He said that this meeting was just a step, and it wouldn’t solve the issues between them.

We asked him why he was apologizing now and not sooner. He answered, “That’s put behind us.”

(Barry refused to answer any other questions from Washington City Paper. “The City Paper is a rag,” he told us before turning away.)

We did get to speak with Angela Ho, a meeting attendee who told us, “This is as much as he was capable of.” Overall, she was positive about Barry's statements, and said she appreciated him speaking since he was considered a “national” figure.

As for Floyd Mori, national executive director and CEO of the Japanese American Citizens League, he felt Barry needed to “soften his language.”

“Next step is up to the councilman, to put some of his words into action in developing some mechanism that allow for better understanding,” said Mori, “It’s the councilman’s responsibility to bring the various ethnic communities together.”

All of which might have made for a pretty decent story of reconciliation, if not for the fact that Barry—in the course of apologizing—used a traditionally disparaging word for Poles in explaining why there's been so much racial tension in America.

"The Irish caught hell, the Jews caught hell, the Polacks caught hell,” he said. He then told the Washington Post he had said no such thing, before admitting he had and saying he meant Poles.

Up next, more meetings?

Photo by Sudip Bhattacharya

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  • TvesBrink

    Let me first start by saying that I don't mean to offend anyone of ANY race...but I agree with Barry. While he didn't say it in the most eloquent way, he was right when he spoke about filthy carry outs and liquor stores being predominately located in Ward 8. Ward 8 is majority Black and low income; that's a fact. 99% of these stores are owned and operated by people of Asian descent; that too, is a fact. These sub-par "restaurants" are disgusting and it's no coincidence that the city's poorest Ward is flooded with them. It's also no coincidence that when things like these are pointed out, the press try to out-do each other demonizing the person who dared to speak up about it.

    I'd like to see an expose to prove Barry wrong. How about an investigation into WHAT he's saying instead of endless articles about HOW he said it?? That's journalism too, right?

  • mighty

    99%, is that a fact? not 98.9% or the dreaded 99.99999%

    Back up your facts, with facts Jack!

    If they are dirty and spread 'disease' then don't buy from these supposed dirty establishments.

  • JPG

    Perhaps you missed it, but in addition to calling Asian-owned carry-outs "dirty," several weeks later he expressed the view that Filipino nurses were, in some way, stealing jobs from American citizens generally and his constituents specifically. While one could excuse the dirty carry-out comments as a momentary lapse, when a member of the council makes a habit of singling-out a particular race, that is problem. Barry's meeting today was, more or less, supposed to be a PR ploy to show that he doesn't have problems with Asian people. Yes, there are dirty carry outs and yes, some of them are owned by Asians. The fact that dirty Asian-owned carry-outs exist does not create an excuse for an elected official to race bait.

  • NC

    Open your own clean, healthy, restaurant then you loafer

  • DC Native Part II

    TvesBrink...nobody is forcing you into their stores. Simple supply and demand. Stop buying from them and they will leave. Start a competitive business and they will have to clean up their act. Why don't more blacks start their own competing businesses? How did blacks get into a situation where 99% of their neighborhood stores were Asian owned? Those are the more important questions that need answering. Once you take the bull by the horns, the market will settle this itself.

  • Drez

    He gets sick and has his Jonah and the whale moment 2000 miles away in a private hospital room, and then comes back and locks the doors for a private conference.
    Some conversion.
    It wouldn't surprise me one bit if the phone that "Uncle Tom" reached him on was auto-forwarded to The Belagio.

  • Ward-8

    I will say again no matter how filthy these carry out are, they survive because people support them, stupid was as stupid is, don't support them, they go away, just that simple. As to Barry, those blind Barry followers put him back in the Council again, Barry is a has been and should have retired a long time ago. His blind followers living on his past can't see the forest for the trees. Its sad to say however, it seems the only way we will have a change in Ward-8 is when father time sooner or later take him away.

  • mighty

    isn't it part of Barry's job to bring investment opportunities to the ward which he represents?

    if anything he is to blame for the 'dirty' carry out