In the year 1947, the mayor of Boston, James Michael Curley, was sent to jail for mail fraud. When his sentence was commuted by President Truman, he came home to a hero's welcome. Were the people of the city of Boston crazy? No, they were Irish. They thought the mayor was on their side.
It was an earlier manifestation of the tribal solidarity that Marion Barry can thank for the no-comment verdict he received last Friday. The Yankees and the Irish were at each others' throats. Curley, with his mellifluous voice, his quotations from the classics and his unlimited capacity for velvet invective, drove the proper Bostonians to distraction, and delighted his own. But when he ran for office one last time, they defeated him.
Will that be the case after the Barry verdict, which has to be interpreted as a judgment on the U.S. attorney's office rather than on the mayor? He was convicted on one count of drug possession. The witness was Doris Crenshaw, who made no deal with the government.
Miles of testimony were heard. The prosecution was wasting its time. The jury wasn't listening. They heard close associates and friends testify about Barry's use of cocaine. They heard his lawyer, R. Kenneth Mundy, admit that Barry used drugs on occasion.
But, one juror said, "They didn't have anything they could get their hands on and say he did it."
This is from somebody who had been shown a videotape of the mayor smoking crack in a Washington hotel room.
But this was not evidence against Barry for the jury; it was evidence of government malevolence. And the judgment was made, some think, before the trial began. The mayor went around town crying racism, cursing the white press, the "$40 million" legal case against him. He was aided and abetted by people who know better: NAACP President Benjamin Hooks and Jesse Jackson, who talked of "persecution, not prosecution."
The difficulties of the prosecution were evident at the voir dire, when the jurors were examined for signs of prejudice. All candidates -- old, young, rich, poor, black, white -- were repelled by the sting operation. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's assurance that it was legal plainly did not help.
What we are talking about here is alienation. The jury was not buying this case against a black mayor, strong as it was. They sent out a message that they might not have meant. They said to black youth: Go to it, taking drugs is no big deal. If you're big enough and loud enough, you can beat the rap.
The day after the verdict, a jubilant Barry was presiding over a huge rally, telling of his brush with God, telling the prosecutor not to retry him, telling the press to lay off, smirkingly thanking his wife for her forgiveness, giving the Washington excuse for an apology -- he was sorry for any wrong he may have done. Once again, he accused himself of being overly altruistic, of "trying to do so much for many of you, I had ignored major parts of myself."
"Enough is enough," he cried, having showed the blacks that his excesses, measured against white abuse, are trifling lapses.
Will his message stand? Vincent Cohen, an attorney and community activist, says no. He calls what happened in the courtoom "a non-violent riot."
He thinks that it can shock people into laying race relations on the table. He recalls that race is never talked of except in an emergency like the explosion that followed the death of Martin Luther King. The Barry verdict has told the city that there is a gulf between blacks and whites and that somebody should be thinking about bridging it.
The possibility of accomplishing any healing with Barry on the scene seems remote. Demagoguery has served him so well, he is unlikely to desist now.
We are being led to believe that he may run for office again. Apparently the job of councilman-at-large is beckoning him. He went to the Board of Elections to change his registration from Democrat to independent.
Will Washington follow Boston's long-ago example and, having made a declaration of love and support, tell a public man that "enough is enough?"
Barry has always followed the double standard. Rules are for other people. When he speaks of enough being enough, he will exempt himself. So if he wants to run again, he will do it. The prosecutor may have different ideas. He may decide to retry the mayor, to give the city another chance at a single standard. But voters could tell Barry to go away. Or they could repudiate the candidate of his choice as his successor.
It would be a way of saying that the jury didn't speak for the whole city.