COLUMBIA -- Charleston's black Democratic senator once again has created a racial firestorm.
In a debate over hardening South Carolina's illegal immigration law, Sen. Robert Ford argued against a new law because "brothers" don't work as hard as "Mexicans."
Ford said during a Senate committee meeting Tuesday that the state needs immigrants to fill hard labor jobs, such as construction jobs at the new Boeing plant in North Charleston, because black Americans won't do the work.
"I know brothers -- and I'm talking about black guys -- they are not going to do the dirty work at Boeing, to do that hauling and all that building, that dirty work," Ford said.
He went on to say that "brothers" do not want to perform hard work. "A brother is going to find ways to take a break," he said.
He later made a comment about "blue-eyed brothers" also not wanting to work hard.
Ford opposes the illegal immigration reform bill, which he said would harm the state.
He was immediately scorned by black leaders as well as state Republicans and Democrats, and called on to apologize, but the five-term senator stuck by his comments. He said his remarks taken in full context were not intended to single out blacks for having a poor work ethic.
Americans, of any ethnic group, whose families have been in the country for generations work as doctors or lawyers or school teachers, he said.
"I was talking about the building of America and how every generation of Americans did the hard work," Ford said. "Americans are not going to do real hard work. Everybody in America knows that."
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the fact that the comments were made by a black man in a position of prominence is especially upsetting to the black community.
"It's unfortunate that he would say something that negative about African-American males," Scott said. "I don't think they really are his brothers. If they were he wouldn't be saying that."
Scott did not ask Ford to apologize. She said to do so wouldn't be fruitful.
"I am not high on apologies," Scott said. "People usually say what they mean. I don't think it would do any good to even ask him for an apology. There is only one way. It's Robert's way."
Carol Fowler, the state Democratic Party chairwoman, and Joel Sawyer, executive director of the state Republican Party, said Ford should apologize.
"It's disgusting and abhorrent that any elected official would say something that offensive," Sawyer said. "He needs to apologize immediately, and hopefully the condemnation of his comments will be equally as loud from both sides of the political aisle."
Fowler said Ford's comments are offensive to all.
"I think he should apologize, but I think he shouldn't have said it in the first place," she said.
Ford said he does not mind apologizing, but in this case he said he does not know why anyone would be offended by his comments.
"What am I apologizing for? I made a lot of jokes in my presentation like I always do," Ford said.
Ford said people who don't have a sense of humor "need to get a life. I am not going to stop bringing a sense a humor."
This is not the first time Ford's comments have caused a stir. Ford was blasted for his 2007 prediction that then-presidential candidate Barack Obama would drag down the whole Democratic ticket, a prediction that he said has since come true.
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said Ford's comments were wrong and he does not want the remarks to divert the focus of the debate on a stronger illegal immigration bill in South Carolina.
The Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to send the bill to the full Senate for consideration.
The bill would require police officers to check the immigration status of people they arrest, stop for a traffic violation or question on suspicion of breaking the law. The legislation also would give residents the ability to sue their police and sheriff's departments if they believe the local law enforcement officials are ignoring the state mandate.
Those opposed to the Arizona- style bill believe it will encourage racial profiling. The bill attempts to guard against that by forbidding law enforcement to stop someone because of their race or national origin.
The bill is intended to build on a 2008 illegal immigration law.
The Judiciary Committee's voted 13-6 to advance the bill. Sen. Brad Hutto, an Orangeburg Democrat who is white, joined the committee's five black members, including Ford, in opposing the bill.
Noelle Phillips of The State newspaper contributed to this report.
Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855.
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