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Controversy at the Business Conference

Steven C. Vogel

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William Bennett’s appearance at the 21st Bakersfield Business Conference drew a variety of reactions from those in attendance and outsiders alike.

The former U.S. Secretary of Education and New York Times best-selling author has been in the spotlight recently as a result of comments made on his radio program.

In a response to a caller, Bennett said “the abortion of all black children would decrease crime in America.” This statement has caused an outpouring of response at the local, state and federal level, demanding an explanation from Bennett.

“I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, he’s probably a good person. I don’t know him personally, so it’s not my place to judge. However, the comments he made were reprehensible and unacceptable. He needs to apologize to the African-American community,” said Roderick Patterson, a conference attendee who is African-American.

Patterson’s statements regarding Bennett could be echoed throughout the black community of Bakersfield, as nearly 100 protesters lined up from the courthouse to the convention center, with the bulk centered in front of the convention center. This protest carried on until the conclusion of the conference. At noon, Bennett met with a number of African-American leaders in Bakersfield, per their request.

“He was totally in a mood of defending his position, which was completely inexcusable. In addition, he refused to acknowledge the error of his statements, while failing to acknowledge how hurtful they (his statements) were to the people of this community, especially African-Americans,” said Dr. Horace Mitchell, who met with Bennett to discuss his recent actions.

Protesters in opposition of Bennett represented many nationalities.

“This is not some liberal movement by the black community in Bakersfield, like many of the local talk shows and radio programs want to talk about,” Mitchell said. “This is not political. We have people of all ethnicities and political backgrounds that oppose the attitude of Mr. Bennett.”

Later, as Bennett prepared to take the stage to give his side of the story, the crowd inside the convention center stood on its feet in support. Throughout Bennett’s speech, not a single word of disapproval could be heard from attendees.

During his speech, Bennett further addressed his comments by saying: “The statements made during my radio program were made in order to illustrate a larger and deeper problem within our nation, and were taken out of context and misunderstood.

“In the past week, I have been lied about, misunderstood, and misrepresented by both the local and national media.”

African-Americans and others have made clear that they intend to continue their battle against Bennett until they receive a public apology.

“I think that the more people who come out in opposition to the type of behavior promoted by Mr. Bennett, the greater chance we as a society have of eliminating the kind of racism and bitterness rampant in our society,” said protestor Michael Alp.

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Controversy at the Business Conference