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Pridgen upset by message of violence on Obama T-shirt

When the Rev. Darius Pridgen first heard about the T-shirt, he thought: "Not a big deal."

Then, he saw it.

The long-sleeved shirt, being sold in some corner stores in Buffalo, depicts President Obama as James Bond, complete with a steely stare, a tuxedo and holding a microphone that is also a handgun.

Below him, first lady Michelle Obama is shown in a skimpy red dress lying seductively in a Bond Girl-esque pose.

"We have free speech in the United States of America," Pridgen told church members gathered in True Bethel Baptist Church for Thursday night Bible study class. "You can say anything you want to. You can make any kind of cartoon. But in a neighborhood in which for many of these young people this is the first time they have seen a black man rise to where [Obama] has . . . to sell this in our neighborhoods, we ought to be outraged."

Pridgen called for anyone who sees the shirts being sold in a store to ask the store's management to remove them.

"If they do not remove it, give us a call and we'll pick one [store] at a time and we'll go pay a visit to them, ask them en masse and if then they don't remove it, we'll just stop going there," he told church members.

Pridgen, a passionate supporter of the new president, took the first few minutes of Bible class to spread the word about the T-shirt.

He said that he learned about the shirt from one of his church members, Marguerite Jackson, who saw it in a Bailey Avenue store.

Pridgen had Jackson hold up the shirt, drawing outbursts of disgust and disappointment from members of the East Side church, a few of whom were wearing their own Obama shirts.

He was so appalled by the shirts, he said, because of the violent message it evokes.

"The power in his hand is a gun," he said.

Pridgen pointed out the far-too-frequent funerals his church holds for young people who have died a violent death. "In front of this pulpit, every month, we bury young people that have died, usually from gun violence," he said.

Pridgen said he has no problem with people who own guns legally. "But we know most folks in our community who have guns don't have permits and are using them for some type of activity that is not legal," he said.

Daniel Powell, 23, a drummer at the church, said he hadn't seen the T-shirts around but believes they are disrespectful to the new president, not just because he is the first African-American president but because of the hope and change he represents.

Still, Powell thought there wasn't much that can be done to stop people from selling or wearing them. "People are going to do what they want to do," he said.

Faith Thurmond, who runs the bookstore at True Bethel, felt the shirt was "a slap in the face because it's taken us this long to have an event this big."

She was especially disgusted by the portrayal of Michelle Obama. "To show our first lady like that is degrading," she said.

Thurmond hopes that raising community awareness about the T-shirt will help people realize the message it's sending. "It may be that someone wouldn't have seen how that was offensive," she said. "Now they'll see."

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com

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