It's sadly typical of the Marion Barry affair that the mayor's welcome appeal for a time of healing for Washington was coupled with statements that will make that process even more difficult.
The two Barrys -- the charismatic leader of all the people and the demagogic politician -- were vividly on display at the Reeves Municipal Center last Saturday when the mayor made his melodramatic post-trial public appearance. Seldom has a major public figure combined such elements of genuine eloquence and disturbing divisiveness, of healing and tearing apart, in one brief, widely publicized moment.
"I'm hoping that any of you who still harbor resentments and vengeance can let go," he said first, striking a tone that surely struck a responsive chord in virtually everyone who heard him. "Let go of the past. Let go of the hate. I'm praying that my strongest supporters can join hands with my greatest detractors and lay our burdens down. Lay our burdens down. My vision for our future: We will all come together to begin to heal ourselves and our city."
He added: "I know my trial has helped to expose deep divisions and racism in our community that are reflective of what is happening around the nation. But I believe that Washington, D.C., can be a model to the world of how people of divergent beliefs and opinions, of various races and religions, can work together for the good of all. Now is the time for healing."
That was Barry at his best, saying exactly what needed to be said. But no sooner had he issued that statesmanlike call than he shifted to an attack on two familiar targets: the government and the media. Although he couched this by saying he wanted to appeal to them specifically "to join me in this healing," the impact of his remarks was just the opposite. He was questioning their performance and motives.
First came his broadside assault on the role of the government in his case:
"Just as I have examined my conduct and changed my outlook, the United States government must examine its conduct to see if it's been in keeping with its responsibility. . . . The United States government must realize . . . that American citizens should not have to walk around in fear that their constitutional rights and civil liberties are being eroded and trampled and Big Brother is all-powerful and all-knowing. Therefore, I call on our leadership of this nation and our government to work together to guard our rights and insist that the government guard against a tendency to overreach in its zeal and its zest just to make a point."
Thus, yet again the mayor attempted to shift responsibility for his own actions and responsibilities onto the back of the federal government. In so doing, he inevitably fueled public cynicism about the fairness of the criminal justice system. He also reinforced the belief that he had been the target of an officially endorsed white conspiracy to destroy black leaders. The prosecutors had been his persecutors, he again implied. Implicit in his remarks was the ugly charge of racism that has played so prominent a part in the divisions spawned by his arrest and trial.
His comments about the media were similarly divisive. "I say to the media: enough is enough," he said. "Enough is enough."
From the crowd came the spontaneous, emotional chant: "Enough is enough, enough is enough, enough is enough."
Barry warmed to his us-against-them attack, and the strong response it drew from his audience: "You, too, in the media need to learn that negative energy hurts. We have been put to too much by the media, overexposing, overreporting, overreacting in their zeal and zest to grab headlines and get ratings.
"We have built our city too much to let anybody tear it down.
"We say to members of the media, you can choose to continue your focus on negatives, or you can join us in finding things to celebrate about Washington. You can continue to push your negative opinions, or you can seek to give a balanced coverage that is both fair and accurate.
"Media, opinion writers, editorial writers, reporters, producers, this, too, is your city. Join us in healing our great city."
In other words, all will be well in Washington if the media will only stop its biased reporting and accentuate the positive instead of the negative. Even assuming that coverage of Barry has been unfair and bigoted, which I do not, the way to generate positive news is for city officials to take positive actions to address the multitude of problems confronting Washington. That will happen only after Marion Barry is gone.