A civil-rights activist affiliated with Al Sharpton’s nonprofit is under fire after making racist comments about Middle Easterners.
The controversy began when James Johnson, president of the Charleston, South Carolina chapter of National Action Network, held a March 29 news conference responding to video footage that shows local store employees beating a man they said tried to steal from their store.
“In a 10-mile radius, we have 34 Arab or foreign stores within our community,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to allow them to rape our community anymore. …They need to go back to their country, where their laws are different for from our laws.”
The controversial comments were covered in local media—but Johnson didn’t back down from them.
“By no means is this an apology,” he said Wednesday. To clarify, Johnson said, his “go back to their country” remarks were directed at the two people shown beating a man, not at Middle Easterners as a whole.
“I think the word rape may have been misused,” Johnson said, “but it’s as proven fact that those 34 stores within the community do not put any money within that community.”
In response to Heat Street’s inquiry, the national National Action Network office sent a written statement by Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, III, the organization’s vice president of religious affairs and external relations.
Rivers called Johnson’s comment “unfortunate” and said the organization will discuss Johnson’s leadership status at their national conference in New York City, held from April 26-29.
The national organization only revokes local elected National Action Network officials’ status after a vote by the national board. Otherwise, the local chapter could hold a vote to decide whether to expel Johnson from their group.
Rivers said a meeting was “long overdue” to discuss blacks’ complaints “about their treatment by Middle Eastern business owners.”
“While we believe that it is important to reassure members of the Middle Eastern community that we do not support discrimination but [sic] at the same time we must have a serious conversation about interactions between members of the African American community and these business owners,” Rivers’ statement said.