Washington (Mar. 19)
The White House and representatives of Jewish organizations here took strong exception today to Washington Mayor Marion Barry’s remark yesterday that if the 21 Black children murdered in Atlanta “had been Jewish, the federal government would have moved much faster” to help solve the crimes.
“If they had been anything except Black they would have moved faster,” Barry said at a press conference. He made his statements in response to a reporter’s question as to whether he stood by similar views he expressed earlier this month about the Atlanta tragedies.
A White House spokesman, Larry Speakes, responding to an inquiry by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, said that President Reagan said several days ago in the course of a conversation about the Atlanta killings, “Let’s get one thing straight. This Administration is color blind.”
Hyman Bookbinder, Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee, said that for Barry “to talk about the Jews and imply that we are all safe and protected is an outrage. We are going through a period of serious escalation of vandalism against Jewish places of worship in this country. I regret that he is being this careless in his articulation. It is especially painful to me to hear things like that knowing how silent the world was when six million Jews were killed.”
STATEMENT TERMED INSENSITIVE
A statement by Amy Goott, community consultant of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith’s Washington-Maryland regional office, said that the ADL is “dismayed” by the Mayor’s remark and described it as “particularly insensitive and inappropriate” when “overt anti-Semitism is significantly increasing in the Washington area and throughout the country.”
The ADL statement said, “The Mayor’s subsequent explanation that he had not meant to single out Jews but felt the government would have reacted quicker if the children had been ‘anything but Black’ is a devisive remark that can only cause racial polarization in our country. We urge the Mayor to exercise the responsibility that is incumbent upon the leader of citizens of the nation’s capital.”
In a letter to Mayor Barry, the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington said that “as all the critics of your previous statements have indicated, your charges are demonstrably false.” The letter, signed by Council president Bert Silver, also said that “the Jewish community deeply understands and emphathizes with your sense of anguish and outrage at the murders of young black children in Atlanta.” But, the letter, continued, “what is most disappointing and upsetting about your statement is that you have chosen a moment of national anguish and tragedy, one which threatens the very social fabric of sociely, to further divide our community.”
CLAIMS THE MAYOR MEANT ANY WHITE CHILDREN
Alan Grip, Barry’s press secretary, said that Barry “is not trying to say that whites don’t care. He is saying that in his guts his perception is that had they been white children, the federal government might have been inclined to provide the help faster than they did. He did not mean to single out Jews. He meant if they had been anybody — and went on to say if they had been anybody.”
Declaring that “clearly this is not a racial issue,” a White House source told the JTA. “What we’ve done is unprecedented. Clearly this (the Atlanta killings) is a local matter. We set a precendent by becoming involved because this is such a tragedy.”
The source noted that the Administration a month ago allocated $1 million through the Health and Human Services Department and another $1.5 million last week for police and other services in Atlanta. In addition, the FBI assigned a team to cooperate with the Atlanta police and a task force was set up under Vice President George Bush who went to Atlanta for a first hand assessment for President Reagan, the source said.
Some observers here felt that Barry, who is Black, was voicing a feeling by others in the Black community that the federal government was slow to respond to Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson’s request for help because the children were Black and Jackson is Black.