"We have people on television and talk radio scaring the hell out of people," Gadson said.
The bishop grew up in the South and recalls segregated bathrooms and drinking fountains. He moved to L.A. 50 years ago and knew immediately that it was a better place. But even now, he said, he sees white people eye him suspiciously depending on the time and place.
"A whole lot of it has changed, but a whole lot of it went underground, and when Obama became president it all came back out," said Ron Simmons, a church elder. "They couldn't help themselves."
For him, Sterling's remarks deserved full condemnation. He was taken back to 1970, when he was bused from a black high school to an all-white school in Inglewood. The very first day, he recalled, demonstrators greeted their arrival, and one man waved a sign bearing racial epithets.
You can't have a good barbershop conversation without a dissenting view, and in this case Drew Palmer took the challenge.
Sterling's purported remarks were deplorable, said Palmer, an engineer and youth mentor. But he says he's more incensed by the casual use of the N-word in street talk and rap lyrics.
Why a firestorm over Sterling, he asked, and silence on the objectification of women and glorification of gangs in popular culture? Is it just about capitalism, same as it is for Sterling? And why compassion for millionaire ballplayers who aren't necessarily the best role models, but so little consideration of the working poor who couldn't afford to see a Clipper game even if Sterling allowed them into the building?
Palmer won some points, but no one in the room was about to give Donald Sterling a pass. Simmons, like Tolliver, saw a parallel with the winner of this year's best-picture Oscar.
"It's like '12 Years a Slave,'" he said. "Just call it '12 Years a Clipper.'"