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NAACP wants apology from Overstock founder

Published: Friday, Oct. 26 2007 5:04 p.m. MDT

The NAACP demanded an apology Friday from the founder of Overstock.com, who said 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 Tuesday at the University of Utah law school, where he was speaking in favor of vouchers, public aid for families sending kids to private schools.

A statewide voucher program, granting $500 to $3,000 per child, based on family income, is on the Utah ballot Nov. 6.

Byrne said he had no intention of apologizing and claimed his comments were taken out of context.

"These folks have been selective in their editing," he 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 she was shocked at Byrne's videotaped comments.

On YouTube, he says: "Right now, 40 percent of Utah minorities are not graduating from high school. You may as well burn those kids. ... If they do not get a high school education, you might as just throw the kids away.

Williams said she believes Byrne literally 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 and nearly every educational organization in the state opposes vouchers.

The NAACP contends vouchers 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.

Byrne said he's in favor of vouchers because he believes they will help minorities. He said he's donated several hundred thousand dollars to help minorities attend school.

"The people who owe an apology are the ones who believe the current system of throwing away 40 percent of minority kids is acceptable," Byrne said.

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