Benjamin Hooks does Rep. Bill Gray (D-Pa.) and other black elected officials a great disservice by lumping them together with Marion Barry {"Hooks Alleges U.S. Harassment of Black Officials," July 10}. I agree with Mr. Hooks that prosecution of public officials ought to be evenhanded. But as far as I'm concerned, he dilutes his argument seriously by talking about the "harassment" of Mayor Barry, as if Mayor Barry had done nothing wrong and finds himself in his current predicament only because of overzealous pursuit by racist prosecutors.

I'm 51 years old, was born and raised in the South. I know something about racism -- including that it still exists today. But I'm also old enough to remember when we looked at black leaders a little differently. We expected a lot of them, and more important, they expected a lot of themselves.

In my opinion, Bill Gray has conducted himself honestly, ethically and intelligently. Therefore, when he was targeted in what seems clearly to have been a politically inspired investigation, it collapsed of its own weight because there was nothing in Rep. Gray's own actions to support it. That's why it disturbs me to have Mr. Hooks lump Mayor Barry with Rep. Gray (and others).

The situations are entirely different. Yes, Marion Barry deserves fair treatment, but I don't want Benjamin Hooks or anybody else telling me I've got to see the Marion Barrys and Bill Grays of the world in the same light.


It is not possible for the Barry case to be free of racism given the extent to which racism still operates in this country. However, while we can recognize how racism has played an important role in the course of events in this case, we must also recognize that Mayor Barry has acted irrationally in his role as a leader and that it seems he has broken the law.

As we hold any citizen accountable for illegalities, and as we expect the highest modeling of behavior in our leaders, it does make sense to hold Mayor Barry accountable for his behavior, regardless of the racist nature of many events in the history of his arrest.

However, it is not necessary to pretend, in the name of focusing on his unacceptable behavior as a leader, that the Barry case is free of racism. Moreover, it is warped to criticize a man's entire human character on the basis of his misdoings, and when that man is black, that criticism feeds racism, whether it is intended to do so or not.

The bottom line is that the Barry case is laden with racism, and the mayor has done some unacceptable things. Let's give equal attention to both and stop using one to undercut the truth of the other.