The founder of Overstock.com rejected the NAACP’s demand for an apology last week after an Internet video surfaced of him saying that Utah minorities who don’t graduate from high school might as well be burned or thrown away.
Patrick Byrne’s comments were posted on YouTube. The video clip was from a debate two weeks ago in Provo, where he was speaking in favor of vouchers, public aid for families sending kids to private schools.
A statewide voucher program that would grant $500 to $3,000 per child based on family income is on the Utah ballot Nov. 6.
On the YouTube video clip, Byrne says: “Right now, 40 percent of Utah minorities are not graduating from high school. You may as well burn those kids. That’s the end of their life. That’s the end of their ability to achieve in this society if they do not get a high school education. You might as, just throw the kids away.”
Byrne has made similar remarks in other debates. He said Friday he had no intention of apologizing and claimed his comments were taken out of context.
“These folks have been selective in their editing,” Byrne told The Associated Press. “I very clearly said the system is throwing away 40 percent of the minority kids because they’re not graduating. I’m saying that I’m against throwing kids away.
“People against vouchers are in favor of throwing the kids away,” Byrne said.
Jeanetta Williams, a voucher opponent and president of the NAACP’s Salt Lake branch, said the videotaped comments shocked her and she believes Byrne meant that minorities who don’t graduate should be burned or thrown away.
“Those were his words, not mine,” she said.
Williams noted that Byrne didn’t mention White children who don’t graduate. Utah is 83.5 percent White, 11 percent Hispanic and 1 percent Black.
“It says he’s not sympathetic to the minority community and he means exactly what he said,” Williams said of Byrne’s lack of an apology.
Byrne, chief executive of Utah-based Overstock, has long been a voucher advocate and has donated several hundred thousand dollars to the voucher movement in Utah.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opposes vouchers, saying they could lead to segregated public schools. It says tuition still would be out for reach for many minority families because a voucher wouldn’t cover the entire cost of private school.
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