It was a black thing at the bar at Faces last night, and other people might not understand, but moments after the verdict in the Barry trial was announced you could almost feel, just about hear, the energy.
At 6:30 p.m. the room was humming and an hour later it was buzzing with people talking, laughing and celebrating, not so much the mayor's vindication as what they saw as the jury's rejection of the U.S. attorney.
The television stayed on all night. When Jay Stephens spoke briefly in front of U.S. District Court, some of the people in Faces laughed, some of them booed, most of them simply ignored him.
"Why are they talking to the loser?" asked a man nursing a scotch and soda. "When you see a football game, who goes into the loser's locker room?"
When a reporter asked Stephens whether he viewed the decision to declare a mistrial as a failure, a bar patron hollered, "Absolutely," and the people around him laughed.
"He's mad, you know he's mad," sniffed waitress Eleanor Carter, as she watched Stephens. Carter could barely keep up with the crowd of people calling out for libation and soul food. "I think it's great," she said of the verdict, and smiled. "Because they set him up, they did him wrong."
Over the evening, Faces filled up with African American professionals, some of them mid-level government employees. By 8 p.m., the red-draped room was full of noise, smoke and older men, reminiscent of the mayor, accompanied by beautiful women.
As the night went on, the famous and infamous trickled in. Barry cronies John Clyburn, Elijah Rogers, David Wilmot, John Ray and Roy Littlejohn all passed through, some of them grinning and laughing, others holding their lips in that way people do when they want to burst out laughing but suspect it might be inappropriate.
To the people at Faces, a bar and restaurant on Georgia Avenue NW, the verdict wasn't about right and wrong, or about innocence or guilt. It was about the vindication of a reality as perceived by many black Americans. That, as the bitter adage goes, justice too often means "just us."
"The verdict doesn't mean he was innocent, it doesn't mean he didn't do the drugs," said Charles Barber, associate general counsel at Howard University. "It means that a few people on the jury felt that, on balance, weighed against the misconduct of the government, Marion Barry should not take a heavy fall."
"Black folks are not being fooled," said Harold Bell, a radio talk show host. "They're looking around and seeing how the system has two sets of guidelines, one for us and one for them. Oliver North is an example of that. He slipped through the system and came out a hero, so why shouldn't Marion Barry?"
When it came to the Barry case, people spoke in terms of what Barry had done for the city, how he'd been messing up, and how he had a sickness. But most of all they spoke with relief that the trial was finally over and the city of Washington could go on about more important business.
"It would be a mistake and bad for this city to try him again," said Ben Johnson, deputy director of the department of public housing. "People want to put this matter behind us, everyone has learned from it. If they do try and go down this road again, then the breaking apart of this city will be on them, and not on the mayor."
In the end, maybe the verdict meant something as simple as what Charles Barber said: "Black folks will protect the center when it looks like a lynching."