In my rush to the courtroom Thursday to see the mayor's drug arrest on tape, there had been no time to stop for lunch. It was just as well. For after the pity and depression I felt watching the tape, I was finally left with a thoroughly bad taste in my mouth.

The "sting" felt dirty and embarrassing; it had a seedy quality as gray as the film that showed Marion Barry lifting a pipe to his lips and, with Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore staring intently, taking the fateful double drag.

In previous sting operations against public officials, the government had been in pursuit of corruption charges, and I found myself wishing that a sting this excessive had been driven by that kind of allegation instead of the sleaze we saw.

Now, as the city emerges from the emotional hangover it suffered from viewing the Vista tape, the debate is whether Barry was entrapped by the government or accepted the drugs of his own free will.

While the answer according to the tapes is unclear, my view is that the mayor's arrest may not fit the legal definition of entrapment, which requires the subject to be unwilling to participate, not simply hesitant to do so.

For while Moore cleverly manipulated the conversation toward drugs rather than sex, Barry, although at first reluctant, ultimately did ask Moore to obtain the crack.

Under questioning by Barry's lawyers, Moore admitted she exceeded the mandate given to her by federal agents. "I got overwhelmed and overcarried."

But if it wasn't entrapment, was it justice?

As Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard University professor, put it on "Nightline": "To tempt a weak man by putting him with a woman should not make us proud."

The question the videotape brought home anew is why the government moved with such intensity to arrest Barry on a misdemeanor drug charge.

Some Washingtonians would argue that the principal reason was race and the determination to discredit a black public official.

But I submit that one reason U.S. Attorney Jay Stephens went after Barry with such force is because he could.

Unique in its local-federal dichotomy, the District has a U.S. Attorney's Office with authority that states do not have.

Presidentially appointed, Stephens has no accountability to a local government with whom he is interfering or to the local populace.

That Stephens, a white Republican, has domain over a largely black and Democratic city adds to suspicions that the sting was political and a plot by the white establishment to go after a black mayor.

Yet others argue that it took an operation of this magnitude to stop Barry's self-destructive behavior and cleanse the air of suspicion about drug use, scandal and allegations of corruption under which this capital city has been living.

As the city's top official, with jurisdiction over the police force, Barry was protected by his office.

Several people covered up for him, including his security officers, who allegedly joked about Barry going out to be "bad."

Barry has been a man out of control in recent years; there was no one to whom he would really listen. Neither political nor personal confidantes were heeded.

Pushed partly by his office into posturing, Barry may have felt unable to go for the help he needed.

After his return from treatment in February, Barry said his arrest may have been a fortunate occurrence in that, had it not happened, he "might have been dead."

Marion Barry's health is at stake; his emotional stability is at stake. The addictions to which he has admitted all conspired to pull him down.

Certainly one of the most painful moments in the tape was when Barry was sitting on the bed, handcuffed and crestfallen.

One law enforcement agent said, "This too shall pass."

He may have been closer to the truth than he realized.

Because as painful and confusing as the past few days have been and the next few weeks will be, we the jury of the public must look to 12 jurors for the final decision on the tapes. And the issue of entrapment will rest with them.