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San Jose Civil Rights Leaders Lament Will Smith Slapping Chris Rock At Oscars

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – Sunday night's physical altercation between actor Will Smith and comedian Chris Rock at the Academy Awards is causing a stir, including among people in the South Bay working to make the world a more tolerant place.

Criticism was swift and widespread, condemning Will Smith's physical altercation with Chris Rock after the comedian joked about actress Jada Pinkett-Smith's close cropped haircut on the Oscars telecast.

"It was such a letdown and such a letdown for us as Black men," says civil rights activist Rev. Jeff Moore.

The slap was broadcast to an audience of millions at home and replayed and shared countless times across social media.

Moore, who is Black, said Smith's actions regrettably reinforces negative stereotypes about Black men being hot-tempered and lacking the reason and restraint to respond to the situation without physical violence. A punchline, he says, never should escalate to a punch or a slap.

"I would have hoped that if anything he would have walked up and maybe said, 'Hey man, just apologize to my wife.' But to go to violence was not the answer," he said.

Others, however, said there was blame to go around -- both for the insensitivity of Rock's joke as well as the inappropriateness of Smith's reaction.

"I think there's culpability on both sides. Chris Rock chose his joke. Of course, he's a comedian and we give a certain amount of license to comedians. But come on, insensitive comments that trigger a response like that? And then you have a bully come up on stage and smack you on the face," said Bob Rocker, a former SJSU journalism professor who specialized in issues of diversity and inclusion.

Many observers say they understood Smith's desire to defend his wife who suffers from a medical condition called alopecia which results in hair loss. But they say resorting to physical violence was out of control and out of bounds.

"Violence only begets violence," said Gabrielle Antolovich, president of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center in San Jose. "We cannot perpetuate it no matter what we think is a reasonable way to react."

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