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updated 6/1/2004 6:14:23 PM ET 2004-06-01T22:14:23

Remarks Bill Cosby made earlier this month upbraiding certain segments of the black community on issues from their grammar to complaints about police brutality have been attacked by some as a classist, elitist attack on the poor.

Others say the entertainer revealed unpleasant truths that need to be dealt with.

Speaking at a commemoration of the anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision, Cosby, a longtime education advocate, cited elevated school dropout rates for inner-city black students and criticized low-income blacks for not using the opportunities the civil rights movement won for them.

"These people marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education and now we've got these knuckleheads walking around," Cosby said at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund observance.

"I can't even talk the way these people talk, 'Why you ain't,' 'Where you is' ... and I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk," Cosby said, according to published reports. "And then I heard the father talk ... Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth."

He also turned his attention to the population of black prison inmates, saying "These people are not political prisoners. ... People getting shot in the head over a piece of poundcake. ... We're outraged (saying) 'The cops shouldn't have shot him.' What the hell was he doing with the poundcake in his hand?"

Among blacks, reaction has been a mixed bag of praise and criticism for the entertainer.

"I think he could have said a lot of the same things in a constructive manner instead of coming down hard on people who don't have the same podium to defend themselves," said Jimi Izrael, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, a columnist for Africana.com.

But the Rev. Conrad Tillard of the Eliot Church of Roxbury, Mass., said Cosby "could absolutely have" gone even further. "What's so true about what he said is slavery and the pathology of Jim Crow have absolutely hurt us, but at the end of the day, we have got to turn the tide."

Tillard said some of the concern over Cosby's remarks was that others would use them to criticize blacks instead of admitting that discrimination still exists.

There is a fear, Tillard said, "that people who are racist ... will seize upon that and try to castigate the African-American community. The conservatives and liberals are far too quick to seize upon a statement and say to the rest of us, 'See, see, it's not us, it's you.' What they have not wanted to acknowledge is that there are still legacies of slavery."

Others said they were concerned not with the topic of Cosby's remarks but with his tone.

"If he was going to make such a strong point, he should have chosen his words very carefully," said Wendy Williams, host of the afternoon show on WBLS-FM in New York City. She said callers to her show were split fairly evenly in their opinions on Cosby's comments.

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons also questioned Cosby's tone. "Judgment of the people in the situation is not helpful. How can you help them is the question," he said.

Izrael said he was appalled by Cosby's remarks about prisoners and police.

"That's irresponsible," he said. "In this day and age he ought not be giving license to anyone to shoot our kids in the street for petty crime. It negates everything he had to say. He's coming from this really classist perspective."

In a statement issued the weekend after his remarks, Cosby said his comments were intended to be a call to action.

"I feel that I can no longer remain silent. If I have to make a choice between keeping quiet so that conservative media does not speak negatively or ringing the bell to galvanize those who want change in the lower economic community, then I choose to be a bell ringer," he said.

The Associated Press sought additional comment from Cosby through his spokesman, but he declined to comment.

Renee Jones, mother of three and grandmother of three, approved of Cosby speaking out.

"If there's a problem, it needs to be addressed," said Jones, 51, while waiting for a friend in Harlem. "He was right on for making people understand and see this is a problem."

But Otis Parker, 67, thought the need was for action, not talk. He questioned whether the speech patterns of black youth were really the concern.

"I was raised to say, 'Yes, Ma'am,' that didn't stop me from going to penitentiary," the retired building superintendent said. He turned his life around after a prison term for armed robbery.

Parker acknowledged that there are those who don't make good choices, but said criticizing instead of reaching out to encourage and help them isn't the way to go.

"You've got to help them all," he said. "You've got to step in."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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