The only person who came out a clear winner in the Marion Barry trial was his attorney, R. Kenneth Mundy, who went into court looking for a miracle and found at least one. "We feel lucky," Mundy said after the trial.
Whether he was lucky or good -- or more likely, both -- he and his client were forced into a gamble when the prosecution refused to make a deal. The gamble was as rough and destructive as anything we've seen in this town in years: that racism is so entrenched, that mistrust and anger at the white establishment is so profound, that at least one black juror would overlook whatever evidence the government produced and would stand behind a black leader no matter what.
Barry has said that the trial wasn't about "some alleged criminal act on the part of Marion Barry," but about racism. This might sound odd when you consider that the government was able to produce a tape of the mayor smoking crack at the Vista Hotel or when you consider that so many witnesses testified to Barry's drug use that when Mundy finally admitted that his client used cocaine, it was almost a footnote.
The mayor didn't get himself arrested because he was black. He got arrested because he is the mayor of the nation's capital and because there had been allegations of cocaine use swirling around him for years, and he had on many occasions appeared to be too incapacitated to do his job.
This is not some broken-down industrial tank town run by a bunch of inbred political hacks. It's the capital of the United States, and that stands for something. This is the nerve center of our political system. That explains the international fascination with this case. But it also explains why the government, hearing allegations of drug use by the mayor for years, had a special obligation to find out whether this mayor was committing crimes or not.
That same obligation to uphold the law at the very top led the Justice Department to indict Henry G. Barr, the attorney general's man in charge of criminal investigations, on charges that he repeatedly used cocaine over a four-year period and lied about it to get a security clearance.
The indictment against Barr, who is white, sounds ringingly similar to the charges against Barry, who was also charged with lying about his drug use to a grand jury. Had the white establishment engaged in racist prosecution, it would have eased Barr out of his job (he had resigned more than a year before the indictment), and swept the debris under the rug. But Barr became the highest ranking federal official to be charged with drug violations when he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Harrisburg, Pa., the same day Barry was let off so lightly by a jury here.
The gamble that Mundy and Barry took was that black jurors in the District would feel a stronger sense of unity with a black mayor than a sense of shared purpose with the government to preserve law and order. Some of the jurors refused to talk after the trial. They didn't need to.
Juror Johnnie Mae Hardeman, 61, who recently lost her job at Garfinckel's when it went bankrupt, was all Mundy needed. She told reporters she thought the government had singled out Barry unfairly and that it had gone too far in setting him up in the Vista sting. "It wasn't the crack he wanted," she said. "Really, what he wanted was sex. He's a man, so I put it like that." She described the case as "the government against the mayor," and said she'd vote for him again.
That kind of racial loyalty is going to come at enormous cost to the city. Statehood, which didn't have much of a chance anyway, has probably been dealt a fatal blow. The war on drugs has been turned into a joke. If the legal establishment can't bring a conviction against the mayor with the kind of evidence that it had, it won't be able to convict anyone.
That, at least, is going to be the thinking on the part of a lot of young people who are weighing the cost of getting into the drug business. And it's got to be the thinking on the part of an awful lot of police officers who risk their lives trying to get pushers off the streets. Don't blame them if they say: Why bother?
In the end, it's the black community -- as usual -- that will suffer when the forces that preserve law and order can't do their job because citizens won't support them. When citizens support lawlessness, that's what they get. Anyone doubting that has merely to look to New York, where children of the projects are being killed daily in their homes during shootouts over drugs.
Barry was right when he said the trial was about racism. It was, at the very least, about racial loyalty. He gambled on it, he asked for it, and he got it. And the city will pay a fearful price for it. Now that he is running for office again, however, he may discover that he's called in his last chit.