Activist clarifies comments about people of Middle Eastern descent

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A local activist clarifying the comments he made with regard to store employees of Middle Eastern descent.

Elder James Johnson is the president of the Charleston branch of the National Action Network, the national organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton. Johnson scheduled a press conference Monday after a controversial video surfaced on Facebook. The cell phone video shows store employees punching and kicking a man they say stole from their store. The clerks appear to hit the man with a sword and a wooden stick while holding him at gunpoint.

In the press conference, Elder James Johnson said the following about the store employees:

“In a 10 mile radius we have 34 Arab or foreign stores within our community. 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 from our laws.”

“We’re sending a message to all the Arab and the foreigner’s stores in North Charleston and the city of Charleston, that we’re going to stop you from taking money out of our community and putting none back.”

We did some research on the organization. Part of their mission statement says the organization was founded to “…fight for one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, nationality or gender.”

We reached out to Elder James Johnson asking for an explanation for his comments. We also reached out to the organization’s headquarters and asked what they had to say about the comments made under their banner. When we started asking questions, the organization scheduled another news conference to address the statements made by Elder James Johnson directed at the store employees of Middle Eastern descent.

Before reading his prepared statement, Elder Johnson pointed out that this is not an apology, simply a clarification for comments that he says were taken out of context.

“I think the word rape may have been misused,” explained Elder James Johnson, “but it’s a proven fact that those 34 stores within the community do not put any money within that community.”

Johnson then said this with regard to the comment he made about his comment “they need to go back to their country.” Johnson said, “Taken out of context, we were talking about the two people in the store, not painting a broad brush about the nationality of people.”

Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III was also at the press conference on behalf of the organization as a whole. Rev. Rivers said, “I have spoken to the national office of the National Action Network and they wanted me to reiterate that we cannot condone any suggestions that the organization supports discrimination against any group based on national origin or heritage. That part of Elder Johnson’s statements is unfortunate. We support Elder Johnson’s call for a meeting to have a long over-due dialog around the complaints of African-Americans about their treatment by Middle Eastern business owners.”

Rev. Rivers says they will review Elder Johnson’s status with the organization during their national conference in New York at the end of April.

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