The emotional issues raised during the trial of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry continue to trouble the community. It wasn't just the federal charges of illegal drug use and perjury. The mayor's highly publicized recovery from alcohol use, the daily revelations about his marriage and his extramarital affairs, his lawyer's remarks that he occasionally used cocaine have gripped the Washington area -- and much of the nation -- for months.
It began on January 18 when Marion Barry was arrested on cocaine charges during a controversial "sting" operation at the Vista Hotel. After an eight week trial and seven days of deliberations, the jury convicted the mayor on one count, acquited him on another and was hopelessly deadlocked on 12 other charges. Next month, the mayor will be sentenced on one misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession.Still, it is not over. From Annandale to Ward 8, from Anacostia to Gaithersberg, the debate continues: when is addiction a disease and when is it a crime? What is the impact of extramarital sex? How much can the public expect of political leaders? How far should prosecutors go in pursuit of wrongdoing? What does the trial reveal about race relations?
Psychiatrist Raymond F. Patterson, administrator of the District's forensic services at St. Elizabeths, the sprawling mental hospital in Southeast Washington, is no stranger to the complicated emotions spawned by the Barry trial.
A graduate of Howard University Medical School, Patterson, 38, is one of about 30 black psychiatrists in the Washington area. As a forensic psychiatrist, he provides medical evaluations for the criminal justice system. In addition he is a consultant to the Secret Service, a surveyor for the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and a member of the drug abuse task force for the National Converence of Christians and Jews.
A longtime resident of northeast Washington, Patterson recently moved to Ft. Washington, Md. He works for the D.C. government and attends high level staff meetings with the Mayor. He is married and is the father of two sons.
Last week Patterson talked to Chris Spolar about the way he views the emotional impact of the trial and its aftermath.
It's like living through a mini-series in the sense that this trial has been ongoing, every day, in the news as a focal point to describe Washington, D.C. It has a bigger-than-life quality: This is the nation's capital, and the mayor of the nation's capital has been accused of wrongdoing. It's also been a bigger-than-life portrayal of concerns that stem from our backgrounds -- our race, sex, age and where we live.
Whether or not the city can be comfortable with the jury's decision, or the nation can be comfortable, depends on what happens next. If there is a holding out of an olive branch on all sides, a time of reaching out rather than pulling in, the community can be helped to heal. But I don't know if the community is ready to do that.
In living rooms and at dinner tables, the trial and everything that went along with it becomes a discussion topic of not only "what happened out there?" but "what effect does it have on us" as individuals, as families, as groups?
The focus of family discussion varies. Was this an overzealous prosecution or a case of an individual getting his just desserts for doing wrong? Or was it someone having a medical, psychological response to ongoing stress?
How you talk about that within your family opens the door to talking with neighbors, religious groups or other community members. Where do we go from here? How do we mount an attack against the problem we saw in the beginning, which was a drug problem for this city?
The idea of drug use, of alcohol use as a response to stress, does not know racial or economic bounds. But there may be a perception of disproportionate justice meted out to those who may be of lower income and who may be black. There is the concern that too often a criminal justice -- rather than a medical or psychiatric -- response is the first line.
The trial has raised deep-seated fears. It happens that a number of people portrayed in the media as affected by substance abuse and alcohol abuse are in the inner city and happen to be black. Are those realities happenstance or a planned, plotted form of genocide to get rid of blacks and poor people? There is a lot of anger. The idea of whether or not there is some plot or an organized effort to bring down black leaders extends not only to political leaders but also to sports figures and others who may be a success or in the limelight.
And that brings us to another point that we have to deal with. When the leader is brought before the community and has been accused of doing exactly what he has been speaking out against, there is a sense of betrayal. The betrayal theme has run rampant throughout this whole proceeding.
Betrayal of values, betrayal of individuals, betrayal of community, even betrayal of the leader vis-a`-vis the system -- with the thought out there that the system is supposed to be there to help and support leaders. It raises the question of whether the system betrayed the mayor by not helping and supporting him but unjustly prosecuting and pursuing him, and doing so because he is black. The role of the media in portraying this has been questioned.
This is the kind of ongoing, when-your-foundation-is-shaken questioning that comes up. Addiction as a Community Problem
There is a lack of appreciation of the impact of addiction on the community until it becomes a news story or until it involves an important figure.
It's easy to see the numbers of dollars that go toward funding treatment of substance abuse vs. the money spent on stopping the flow of drugs coming into the country. We can't do it without law enforcement, can't do it without, unfortunately, prisons and structured environments to get people off the street if they choose to continue to abuse drugs.
But there is not much awareness of the day-to-day battle against drug use, and we don't tend to look at it in the broader context of socio-economic problems. On the way home from school, how many times will kids have to "just say no." How can they say it in a way that's acceptable and allows them to exist in an environment where there is a guy dealing drugs on the block who has the gold chains, the cars, the whole bit?
A City Divided by Race
There will be those who will see this as a racial indictment, that the white establishment was going after the black mayor. They will draw from other episodes of what they may consider slanted or tainted behavior. It may be seen as another example of bringing the black man down or keeping him down.
Upper-class blacks may see it both as an embarrassment that one of their own has been vilified in the media, rightfully or wrongfully, but also as an indictment against them. Now, the image that goes out to the rest of the world does not include the successful black politician, the doctors and lawyers and others who are here in town and who are doing a good job.
Many white people have made very little comment about what is going on here. In part, I think, that's because of fears of retaliation. What they may be saying may be genuine on their part, but it may be seen by blacks as racism and therefore should not be said.
Others may be very comfortable with the prosecution and how this has all unfolded. They may see this as a cut-and-dried issue and that politics and race don't have anything to do with it.
There is also diversity within the black community. Some are very much on the law-and-order side: these are kids doing bad things, therefore, they should be punished. Some are on the other side: this is the end-point of socio-economic deprivation that their parents knew and their grandparents knew in a different way -- this is another example of ongoing racism and genocide.
The trial has intensified differences between communities. The perception is that the gap between blacks and whites has gotten wider. Black folks are talking to black folks; white folks are talking to white folks. It becomes a bigger issue of they're not with us, so they're against us.
But the issue of drugs transcends both communities, transcends all communities -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian and other folks that are here, too.
There's a lot to learn from this, but I think it will be a long time before people are very comfortable with what has happened to this city.
Marriage on Trial
The issues between Marion Barry and Effi Barry are essentially between them. But it makes us question what is a family, what are vows and what do they mean. It flows into the issue of black men, black women -- what does it mean for all men, all women. What are they doing with each other, what are the expectations of one vs. the other? The idea of "Do you stand by your mate no matter what the situation may be or do you move on" is as much an individual and personal decision as it is a political one.
Public opinion breaks down on both sides: This was an example of showing the strength of the black family and how a couple can stay together through overwhelming adversity. On the other end are the traditional knocks at black males for not being faithful to their mates and at black women for tolerating more than they should tolerate. It gets into basic ethics and morals and family issues.
I think the stereotypes of the black male and black female are still there. I do a fair amount of couples' counseling in my practice. The issue that comes up when there is a confrontation of the stereotypical characterization is that the black man doesn't have the same opportunity and is therefore not as empowered as the black woman -- which may be seen as a consequence of slavery. He can't get the schooling, can't get the same jobs. Confrontation in the marriage and resolution of those conflicts is very difficult for the black man. It's difficult for the black woman, but it's sometimes more acute for the black man.
Whether the black woman is taking it or being supportive in a hostile world depends on your point of view. There is so much stress out there and such a limited resource of available black men that the question can arise: If there is a good black man who treats you well -- then should you continue in a relationship with him, understanding that part of the stereotype has sometimes been expressed? Is that something that is tolerable given all the rest of the stresses?
The couples who succeed and make it well together tend to come to some understanding of what they get and what they're willing to give to each other. Sometimes that understanding includes extramarital activity on the part of one or the other or some other kind of compensation.
Impact on Children
We have to talk to our kids. We have to hear from them. Because they were the most unforgiving initially in January when the charges were lodged against the mayor. Many viewed it as a wrong-or-right activity.
As a psychiatrist, I'm not surprised by what people are capable of doing. It doesn't surprise me that an elected official can have a problem with substance abuses, particularly with alcohol. But with youngsters, it is different.
I have two sons, 10 and 7 years old. For them the mayor's arrest was an unbelievable situation: This can't be true and, if it is true, how can this have happened?
A year before, my younger son took a school field trip to the police station. They had the lecture from the drug dog, McGruff. Michael came home and said, "That's one place I never want to be."
I asked him why, and he gave the usual 6-year-old kinds of answers. Because there's no place to go to the bathroom in jail, you don't have any kind of privacy and there's no toys -- the kinds of things you'd expect a young child to say about deprivation.
My older son, who had had the lecture earlier and now was very wise, told him that going to jail only happened to bad people and if you do bad things and you break the law that's where you go, and if you don't do those things, that doesn't happen to you.
When the mayor was arrested, they wanted to know: How could the mayor be involved in something like this? He represents so much more to us.
Most adults, I think, can ferret through our mixture of feelings. With some maturity, we all recognize that anyone can fall prey to a particular kind of behavior if the stress is great enough. But children react to what they see.
When a high official gets caught with the charisma of drugs, it raises a lot of confusion. We've got to have kids hopeful that they can become leaders and not fall.
The "Just Say No" campaign, for example, was very nice except that it's not enough in the particular context of living in a culture, living in a neighborhood, living in a school system and dealing with fear.
To be liked, to be accepted, to identify -- these are the developmental issues for kids.
It's part of a broader struggle for identity. What are we going to call ourselves? Are we black? Are we African American? What is the actual difference here? What does it mean? This is a struggle to establish identity and establish it in a positive way that can give hope that there is a better something coming.
With the trial, there is hope that because of greater exposure of the problem of addiction, there will be greater understanding and efforts to deal with it more effectively.
There is also an overall sense of despair. It's almost as if once identified as a drug user, then all hope is gone and you're lost. And that's not so. Recovery and Rehabilitation
The request for forgiveness is one that should linger. Not only for Mayor Barry and the idea of allowing him to pursue what is necessary for his own mental health and recovery. But also with the idea that this city could continue to debate the issues of rightfulness and wrongfulness -- of what should have been, what could have been.
In general, I am optimistic about recovery, but cautiously optimistic because relapse is a part of the disease process. It's not an unusual occurrence and is one that happens frequently. In treating the substance abuser, we deal with the issues of relapse and the kinds of stresses that will come up to cause a similar seeking of that relief. This is something that's predictable and has to be worked on reasonably intensively. Most recovering addicts will tell you that it is an intensive ongoing process. It takes years and years.
Newly addicted folks that I see in my private practice have trouble with that. Their families tend not to acknowledge that they really have a problem, particularly if it's alcohol. You just drink a little too much or you ought to cut it out or you're binging on the weekend -- but you're working and that's okay, you're still at home with the family, so it's not so bad.
If it's an illegal drug, it raises a whole different spectrum of concerns -- the idea that there's going to be some real legal consequences to the use. It hits the family internally when there are efforts to control it and they're unsuccessful, so that the addict then is either doing things outside the home or bringing the wrong people in, getting phone calls or having creature comforts that are unexplainable.
But recovery depends on acknowledging the problem. Central to that is the issue of responsibility and remorse. Sentencing judges use it all the time to get an idea of how much a person is likely to be a fine, upstanding or at least contributing member of the community. That's part of what you hear in the cries for forgiveness and healing.
Recovery for the Community
Overall, it's a difficult time for Washington, and we're looking for leadership that can be relied on.
If every black person is seen as just upholding the mayor because he is black and every white person is seen as putting down the mayor because they're white, we're starting with such divisiveness that it is difficult to get past that.
If we can acknowledge that these perceptions exist, then I think we can move on to the brass tacks, the real issues. The first step is a dialogue.
There is a danger that people could all go to sleep and deny the whole thing. They could say, this really isn't a problem, it really didn't happen or it's over and it's time to let it go; what's left is just legalities and politics.
That would be a mistake. There are families out their with members who are in trouble and need some particular kind of help, but everyone will struggle to keep it all within the family. Mental illness is notorious for that. If we can pray it away, we'll pray it away. If we can drink it away, we'll drink it away. But if we have to go and acknowledge that it exists, then what does it say about us? What does it say about the family?
If we look at Washington as a family, we can say the family is not healed. It is not intact -- it is not a nuclear family at this point. It has such differences in its members, who don't communicate very much with each other except in hostile ways.
We have to ask, first -- how do we feel about our city? How do we look at the process that's happened here? Is this a Washington phenomenon? Would it not have happened in New York or Chicago or L.A.? Why was it done the way it was done here?
The new mayor, whoever that is, has to take an active role in bringing this family, this community together. It's something that is done in families in trouble and can certainly be replicated here in the Washington community.
We are at a crucial time. I think people can forgive. I don't think they can forget. I hope a silence does not ensue that would then lead people to think that all the issues have been forgotten -- they will continue to linger.