Washington’s controversial former mayor Marion Barry has come under a fresh storm of criticism after he attacked “dirty” Asian-run businesses that operate in poor parts of the US capital.
Barry, a leader in the civil rights movement whose mayoral stint was marred by his arrest for drug use, went on the offensive as he won the Democratic Party’s primary for another term representing Washington’s poorest ward.
At a rally, the 76-year-old said that African Americans — who make up the overwhelming majority in his Ward Eight — should replace the fast-food restaurants and other businesses run there by Asian Americans.
His remarks triggered a furor, in part as they came weeks before the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, in which protesters outraged over the police beating of a black motorist targeted Korean American businesses.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the US capital in Congress and knew Barry from the civil rights movement, said she was stunned and reminded the former mayor in a telephone call of “the values we first shared as students” fighting for racial justice in the South.
Barry later apologized, saying he was “very sorry for offending the Asian American community,” but insisted that his remarks were taken out of context.
Barry, the Mississippi-born son of a sharecropper, was in his third term as Washington’s mayor when he was arrested in January 1990 for crack cocaine use and possession in an FBI sting operation caught on video.
He was sentenced to six months in prison, but won another term as mayor in 1994.