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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