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White official's video choice angers six black lawmakers

Associated Press
Published February 24, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Six black lawmakers called for the removal of Juvenile Justice Secretary Anthony Schembri on Wednesday because he showed a Chris Rock video to Florida NAACP leaders last year.

The video, a 4-minute skit from the comedian's former HBO show, was shown at a meeting in Schembri's office. In it, Rock offers tips for young blacks to avoid police beatings, including driving with a white friend and turning down loud rap music when pulled over.

In several scenes, actors dressed like police pretend to beat up blacks who did not follow Rock's advice, such as a driver who jumps out of his car during a traffic stop and starts yelling profanities and a man who jumps a subway turnstile while smoking marijuana and carrying a gun.

"I found this as being totally and absolutely racist; there's no way around it," said Sen. Mandy Dawson. "It doesn't make sense to me to show this type of video under any circumstances to the NAACP."

Dawson, D-Fort Lauderdale, and the five other lawmakers acknowledged they hadn't tried to contact Schembri, who is white, to find out why he showed the video, nor did they know what was said before or after the showing.

Schembri's spokesman, Tom Denham, said the video was shown during a discussion of racial profiling. He said Schembri had used it before when teaching college courses, as a way to open discussion on profiling.

"The secretary is a very colorful and unusual man and he likes to push the envelope and get people to think about things," Denham said. "It's not like the secretary says this is what we want to do."

The six lawmakers claimed the secretary used the video to train his staff. Denham said it never has been and never will be used in training.

Though the meeting was in July, the lawmakers said it is an issue now because they were just made aware of it.

Schembri, through a spokesman, said, "I would like to apologize. I did not mean to offend anyone."

Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Schembri last May. The former head of New York City's jails was the model for the New York-based TV show The Commish.

William H. Booth, a retired New York City judge, said he was at the meeting and no one complained about the video. He said Schembri used it as an example of how the media can contribute to attitudes about profiling.

"I've never known him to be prejudiced in any way," said Booth, an NAACP member who has known Schembri for many years. "I don't think he's got a racial bone in his body."

Rock's publicists declined to comment.

[Last modified February 24, 2005, 00:53:06]

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