A parade of witnesses from virtually every slice of Washington life yesterday added their voices to the growing chorus of District of Columbia residents demanding an end tothe city's rising crime rate, but most were not in favor of mandatory sentences or a ban on the possession of drug paraphernalia.
The second day of marathon, all-day hearings on crime legislation before the City Council's Judiciary Committe brought together a colorful cast -- including a gay rights activist threatening to use a gun to prevent confiscation of his marijuana pipe, a Catholic priest whose Columbia Heights community lives in constant fear of crime, and a former Michigan prison guard who chided the use of mandatory sentences as a deterrent to crime.
While most of the witnesses agreed with the overall thrust of the council's sweeping, get-tough crime legislation, they differed on some of the specific points. Most of the witnesses rejected outright those strict, traditionally conservative proposals that some consider buzzwords of the anticrime crusade -- mandatory penalties, pretrial detention and heavy fines for possession of implements that can be used with drugs.
Echoing the concerns of most of the witnesses, Edward Hailes Jr., secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP, urged a "firm but fair" approach."Use not a club," he argued the council members. "Use a scalpel -- a scalpel of justice to cut crime out of the community."
Meanwhile on Capital Hill, members of an influential House D.C. Appropriations subcommittee scolded Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson for the city's refusal to use specially allocated funds to hire more police officers in the face of the rising crime rate.
Jefferson told the subcommittee that budgetary restraints and difficulties in preparing a qualifying examination have delayed the mandated hirings, carefully avoiding veiled invitations to launch a public quarrel over his differences on the issue with Major Marion Barry.Jefferson wants to hire the officers but Barry does not.
The crime package currently before the council, sponsored by council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), is the culmination of a two-year study of the city's criminal laws.
The measure essentially would update District of Columbia laws for narcotics offenses and sexual assault, reform the bail laws, and given the city its own broad statutes outlawing bribery, shoplifting, and unauthorized reproduction of records, instead of the federal statues now in effect.
Speaking against the proposed drug paraphernalia ban, gay rights activist Franklin E. Kameny set a three-foot-high glass bong (marijuana pipe) on the wooden table before the council members and dared law enforcers to break into his home to confiscate it if such paraphernalia should be outlawed by the pending bill.
"I detest guns, and I have not touched one since I was discharged from the army in 1946," Kameny said. "But let an effort be made to seize this bond, as this vicious bill would seem to require, and there just might be a shoot-out."
Jerry Blanchard, a 30-year-old former prison guard from Michigan, asked the council not to pass any mandatory sentences. Blanchard said that at the maximum security Michigan State Prison in Marquette where he once worked, prison authorities used to take away a prisoner's "good time" -- the time reduced from a prisoner's sentence for good behavior -- if the prisoner was unruly. Since prisoners with mandatory sentences do not have "good time," Blanchard said they have no incentive to obey prison rules.
Father Joaquin Bazan, the burly pastor of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Northwest Washington, told the committee about what the people in his Columbia Heights neighborhood call "freebies."
"Freebies," Bazan said, are crimes committed by persons who are already charged with a crime and free on bond pending trial. "Between the time they are released and the time they come to trial," Bazan said, "they know nothing else will happen to them."
Hailes of the NAACP said that crime "disproportionately swallows up blacks as victims," and added emphatically, "We must stop crime!"
Hailes said that the NAACP's tough anticrime stance might seem to run counter to the organization's history as a civil rights group, but that his group's membership -- mostly older and more settled individuals -- are more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators.
"Traditional liberals are coming out strong because of the demands of the public," he said. "We fought hard to see blacks move into the mainstream of American life. As we're on the brink of being there, we see blacks being victimized"
In the House subcommittee hearings, Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.) -- who led the fight last year to add $6 million to the District's budget so the city could raise its police officer strength to 3,880 -- was Jefferson's most persistent interrogator.
"The people who pay taxes in this city and the people who come in from the 50 states should have the right to walk the streets here peacefully," said Natcher. His criticism of the city for failing to hire more police was echoed by other members of the subcommittee, including Chairman Julian Dixon (D.-Calif.).
Jefferson said the department had spent much of the additional $6 million on paying overtime to officers so the department could keep more men and women on the streets -- a practice Natcher called "subterfuge."
Jefferson also said that the city has only recently finished drawing up a qualifying exam for prospective officers, and could theoretically reach the mandated level by the end of the current fiscal year if it begins hiring soon.
Natcher gave Jefferson a number of opportunities to criticize Barry, at one point saying, "I know the position and the restrictions you're put in from the District Building, but Chief, they're just as wrong as they could be. I'm talking about the mayor and all the rest, they're just as wrong as they could be."
But Jefferson remained diplomatic, telling the subcommittee members that he could only "do the best I can do with the resources I have."