By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 4, 2006
D.C. Council member and former mayor Marion Barry yesterday urged two young men who robbed him at gunpoint Monday night to turn themselves in to police, promising that he would urge authorities not to prosecute them.
"I have no animosities," Barry declared. "I don't even want you prosecuted, really. I love you. Give yourself up. Call the police. . . . I will do all I can to advocate non-prosecution."
Barry, 69, was held up in his kitchen about 9:30 p.m. Monday by two assailants who minutes earlier had helped him carry groceries from his car to his third-floor apartment in Southeast Washington. They pointed a gun at Barry's face and stole his wallet, which contained more than $200, his driver's license and two credit cards, police said.
The thieves apparently knew that Barry (D-Ward 8) was a longtime community leader, a fact that he said made the crime "kind of hurt" because he is well respected by so many people in the city. Barry was not injured in the holdup.
"There is a sort of an unwritten code in Washington, among the underworld and the hustlers and these other guys, that I am their friend," Barry said at an afternoon news conference in which he described the robbery in detail. "I don't advocate what they do. I advocate conditions to change what they do. I was a little hurt that this betrayal did happen."
D.C. police, who are battling a recent spike in holdups, said they were shocked that someone would knowingly rob a former mayor in his apartment. They have no suspects. A bystander found Barry's wallet -- without the cash -- on a nearby street. The billfold, driver's license and credit cards were returned yesterday to the council member, authorities said.
"I was very surprised, especially in the fact that the individuals knew who Mr. Barry was, and they went ahead and robbed him anyway," said D.C. Police Cmdr. Joel Maupin. "It shows that people don't care who you are -- they just want what you have."
Barry, a four-term mayor who returned to politics last year when he was elected to the council, called the news conference at the John A. Wilson Building, the District's city hall, to talk about the crime and to urge stiffer penalties for gun possession. Even as he characterized the city's problems with guns and violence as a "pandemic," he said he felt empathy for those who robbed him.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein declined to comment on Barry's remarks. Prosecutors and police will make the call on whether to file charges against those responsible for the crime.
"As with all violent crimes, we will expend every effort in the investigation of this case, both to vindicate council member Barry's rights and to prevent the perpetrators from victimizing others in the future," Wainstein said.
Barry often has spoken out against street crime in a political career that goes back more than three decades. He was first elected mayor in 1978 and was reelected to second and third terms. He was in his third term when the FBI videotaped him smoking crack; he was convicted of one count of misdemeanor drug possession.
He settled in Ward 8 after completing a six-month prison sentence and won the council seat there in 1992, launching a comeback that eventually led to a fourth term as mayor. He recently pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges because he did not pay most of his income taxes after leaving the mayor's office in 1999. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 18.
Monday's robbery was not the first time Barry has been the victim of violence. He was shot above the heart by a stray bullet during the 1977 takeover of city hall by a group of Hanafi Muslims -- an experience that he said was less scary than what happened at his home Monday evening.
"On March 7, 1977, in this very same building, I walked across the hall and heard something ring out," Barry remembered yesterday. "And I got hit in my chest. I didn't even have time to think.
"In this incident, I had a chance to see it. I was much more frightened, much more emotionally involved. It was a horrific experience to face a gun," Barry said. "I could see my life flash before me at that moment."
Monday's episode began about 9 p.m. when Barry returned from shopping for groceries at a Safeway store in Southwest Washington. He parked outside his beige-brick apartment building in the 2600 block of Douglas Place SE, part of a neighborhood that police say has problems with drug dealing and burglaries but generally is not affected by the level of violence in harder-hit areas of Barry's ward. The young men, whom Barry said he did not recognize, asked if they could help carry his bags upstairs.
"Mr. B, can we help you with your groceries?" Barry said one of the youths asked him.
Such requests are common, Barry said.
"When I go home in the evening or come out in the morning or weekend, the young people are all over me, asking for money, begging for money. 'Give me a dollar. Give me five dollars,' " Barry said. "So I try to make a practice of making them work for what they get."
Barry gave the young men several bags. After helping him, they asked if they could have some candy in a dish on a dining room table. He and the young men talked a bit. Barry then handed the two a few dollars and they left.
About 15 minutes later, they came back.
"I just let them in. That's how we do it over there. At least that's how I do it," Barry said.
Once inside the apartment, one of the men pulled out "a gun and pointed it at my face and pushed me into the kitchen," he said.
The assailants quickly fled with Barry's wallet. Police said they were stepping up patrols in the neighborhood to prevent other robberies and to gather information about the assailants.
Yesterday, Barry called for a summit among the city's leaders to address gun violence. And he said he will prod the council to pass a bill he introduced to stiffen penalties for carrying a gun in the District. The proposed legislation would also prohibit judges in most cases from granting pretrial release to defendants facing gun charges.
"Violence is everywhere," Barry said. "Guns are everywhere. This ought to be the number one priority in our city -- saving lives, getting guns off the street and rehabilitating young people."
Staff writer Eric M. Weiss contributed to this report.