Perhaps the reason Benjamin Hooks's freewheeling piece {"The Broader Issue of the Barry Case," op-ed, July 22} relied so heavily on varied appeals to history, literature, philosophy and the S&L crisis was that the facts in the Barry matter fail so utterly to support Mr. Hooks's position.

Mr. Hooks claims not to be defending Marion Barry, but argues that the government should have spent its prosecution money more effectively by pursuing individual drug dealers. Apparently, the government should restrict -- not according to the evidence but according to some budgetary limit that Mr. Hooks does not name -- any investigation of charges that the city's chief law enforcement officer was himself a regular crack cocaine user. (Also, Mr. Hooks finds injustice in that when others -- rock musicians, for example -- stray, they are allegedly hounded less than Mr. Barry, a high public official, has been.)

At a time when the capital city has become a world murder capital while cocaine dealers bloody our streets with their drug war, Mr. Hooks tells us that prosecutors should have limited their "disproportionate" pursuit of the shocking allegations of the mayor's own drug use.

They should have held off, according to this logic, despite the accidental discovery of the mayor and cocaine together inside Charles Lewis's hotel room, despite allegations that convicted cocaine dealer and Barry associate Karen Johnson was paid off by city contractors to refuse to testify truthfully against the mayor, despite persistent rumors and leads on substance abuse that have now been supported by hour upon hour of sworn testimony and despite the image around the globe of Washington as the Western capital that is supposed to be leading the international campaign against drugs. One might ask Benjamin Hooks: Just what would it take to justify an all-out investigation?

Mr. Hooks complains that positive things he has said have gone underreported and also that Andrew Young and others have been unfairly pursued in separate cases. But Mr. Hooks should know very well that it is usually the outrageous things that one says, not the constructive things, that get the big headlines. And if what he says about Mr. Young is true, Mr. Hooks sadly cheapens his arguments by tying them up with the Barry fiasco.

It goes without saying that by taking an extreme and unjustified position Mr. Hooks obliquely lends encouragement to those who would callously use the Barry case to fan already growing flames of racial divisiveness. One would have expected better from Benjamin Hooks.

J. E. DOWNEY Washington