I KNOW, I know. Marion Barry won, the government lost. Black Washingtonians won, white folk lost. Ken Mundy won, Jay Stephens lost.
It's all true, and yet it's not all that's true about the disposition of the drug and perjury charges against Barry. The jury convicted him of one misdemeanor count of possessing cocaine, acquitted him on a similar count and was unable to reach a verdict on 12 other charges, including three counts of perjury, conviction on which would have meant a near-automatic prison term.
There's virtually no chance that Barry will go to prison for that misdemeanor possession conviction, so on that basis, he won. Prosecutor Stephens, who produced 13 witnesses who swore that they had seen Barry use various drugs hundreds of times, won a unanimous verdict on only one count, and on that basis he lost.
The conventional wisdom says that Black Washingtonians, by and large, thought that the government's case against Barry, formidable though it was, amounted to a years-long vendetta, and that the FBI "sting" that produced the videotapes of him smoking crack cocaine was unfair (if not technically illegal) and that that evidence should never have been shown to the jury. They won.
Whites, by and large, were so outraged by Barry's catch-me-if-you-can arrogance and his repeated denials of what they "knew" to be true, that they were ready to endure virtually any prosecutorial means to bring him to book. They lost.
But there is another way of looking at the jury's findings. Barry stands convicted of the single count, but his lawyer, R. Kenneth Mundy, told the jury that he had in fact been a casual user of cocaine for some time -- including the period of time, but not the precise occasions, testified to by witnesses. That matter needed to be resolved, both for those of us who "knew" it all along and for those who believed against all the evidence that the mayor was innocent of drug abuse. It is now resolved: Barry is an admitted drug user. He won't go to jail, but few Washingtonians wanted him there. By that reckoning -- by my reckoning -- the city won.
The jurors who have spoken to the media say they looked at the evidence, weighed the credibility of the various witnesses and concluded that most of what they heard was insufficient to overcome their "reasonable doubt." They believed Doris Crenshaw's reluctant testimony that she and the mayor had used cocaine together at the Mayflower Hotel. Several of them doubted the testimony of other witnesses, all of whom faced charges of their own and testified against Barry in order to escape prosecution. The defense produced an alibi witness for the count on which Barry was found not guilty -- a charge based on the testimony of drug dealer Lydia Reid Pearson that she had supplied him with cocaine at a time when another witness placed him elsewhere. The verdict on the Crenshaw episode was reached after U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson assured jurors, in response to their inquiry on the point, that the government had no deal with Crenshaw.
But if "reasonable doubt" was their publicly stated criterion, I believe there was, for roughly half the jurors, another standard: the good of the city.
It would surprise me not at all to learn that all 12 jurors secretly believed the mayor guilty on virtually all the counts and, moreover, thought that it would be bad for the city to let him "walk." What disastrous message would that send, particularly to the youth in the drug-infested sections of town? That drug abuse is all right for the mayor but not for them? That the blacks they look to for leadership are a bunch of hypocrites? That Barry (and by extension other black officials) need not bear responsibility for his actions, no matter how despicable, if we are convinced that white people are out to get him? That in the crunch, race is more important than character?
So I imagine that they thought it vital for the city that he be convicted of something. And, yet, also with the city in mind, they decided to go only for the easiest charge.
Several members of the jury must have bridled at the thought of jailing a prominent black leader whose failings were largely personal. I wouldn't have been surprised to see "guilty" verdicts on several of the misdemeanor charges, but the failure to convict on the felonies was unsurprising. In an important sense, the jury was what juries are supposed to be, a cross-section of the community. These 12 men and women represented us, and I think their verdict is reasonably close to the outcome most Washingtonians hoped for.
This is particularly true for blacks, who have a keener sense than whites of the "outsideness" of the prosecution.
White Washingtonians, largely an elite and privileged minority, may see Stephens and Jackson as just two more judicial officers -- coincidentally white, but decent and scrupulous and uninvolved emotionally -- rather like themselves. For them, the overriding question was: Did he do what he was accused of? And the answer was obvious, even if the details admitted of doubt and the prosecution's behavior seemed overreaching.
But black Washingtonians are painfully aware that the FBI, which ran the Vista Hotel "sting," is a federal agency; that Jackson, for all his celebrated judicial temperament, is a federal judge; and that Stephens is a federal prosecutor, appointed, like Jackson, by Ronald Reagan. They may not assume that the two men are somehow "against" the city's interests, only that their accountability lies elsewhere and that their jobs entail no personal interest in the city.
Imagine an occupying army (say MacArthur's forces in postwar Japan) bringing a court martial against a Japanese politician for some non-capital offense, some personal sin. Imagine that the case is brought by Army officials and heard by an Army judge, but with the outcome determined by a jury of ordinary Japanese citizens. Would it be surprising if the verdict amounted to less than a complete victory for the occupying forces?
I think the verdicts in the Barry case, and the public reaction to them, might have been far different if the cases had been developed by the local police, prosecuted by a locally elected prosecutor and heard by a municipal judge whose roots, politics and loyalties were tied to the city. At least a part of the reaction here, which appears divided along lines of race, can be explained by the sense of the city as a federal colony. But the racial-split hypothesis may be exaggerated. It's true that most of the whites interviewed on television thought it incredible that the jury should have been deadlocked on so many counts; however, it is also true that a lot of whites in this city are relieved that the business is over. It is true that most of the blacks interviewed outside the courtroom, and at the Municipal Center where Barry made his first post-trial statement, hailed Barry as a conquering hero. Many of them would like to see him re-elected. But it is also true that some of the bitterest remarks I heard were from blacks who thought the jury was far too easy on a man they see as a junkie womanizer who has brought disgrace to their city.
The black reactions appear to be class-driven. Low-income and blue-collar blacks, perhaps harboring memories of their own unhappy encounters with authorities over whom they wield no influence, tend to identify with Barry, seeing his deliverance as their own. Those blacks who place great weight on being well thought of by whites, and who fear that Barry's reputation will taint their own, are likely to register their embarrassment. And those black professionals who have no doubt of their own competence and probity resent the apparent gullibility of their less-well-off brothers and sisters who, even now, want Barry back in power.
As a friend put it during the trial: "Blacks are angry. Negroes are embarrassed. Colored folks are proud."
Still, hardly anyone wants more of this spectacle -- neither those who wanted Barry's complete exoneration nor those who wanted him convicted on several counts, if not jailed. And they are right. Retrial might conceivably have made sense had there been a single hold-out on the jury. But with most of the votes running 6-6, or 7-5, there is no reason to believe that a new trial, which is up to the discretion of the prosecutor, would serve any purpose beyond keeping alive the tensions of race and class. In a way, what we are witnessing is a drama rather like the sort of ritual that substance abusers go through on the road to recovery. There is the shock of discovering the truth about the addiction, followed by denial, anger and bargaining ("If you help me out of this one, I promise . . . .")
What's left now are acceptance and cloture.
Barry came close to acceptance yesterday when he begged the forgiveness of specific segments of the community ("young and old, black and white, Jew and gentile, rich and poor, Ward 3 and Ward 8") if not for specific offenses. He still couldn't bring himself to admit being a cokehead, although his press secretary has been counting the "chemical-free days" since the Vista arrest and his lawyer admitted to the jury that Barry had smoked crack over a long period of time. Instead, he lumped himself with the "millions of Americans addicted to alcohol, illegal drugs and prescription drugs," not quite laying to rest the fiction that his main problem was cognac.
But that, like the jury's verdict, is all right. We know what Barry is, and he knows that we know it. What we need now is cloture. And how could that happen?
One observer believes that the best way would be for Barry to stand for election as an independent, whether for mayor, as some supporters are urging, or for an at-large seat on the city council, as some insiders have hinted.
Leaving aside the fact that he needs one more year of government service to qualify for his pension, he may need to offer the people a chance to judge him, without the complications of law and race and political distance.
He might win, and he might not. I certainly would not vote for him again. But that's not the point. The point is that the drama in which he has starred needs a finale, and what better ending that to allow the people to do directly what that much-maligned did as our proxies: Look at the man, with all his strengths and shortcomings, and pronounce the people's verdict.
Even a defeat at the polls might prove wondrously healing -- for him and for us.
William Raspberry is a Washington Post columnist.