They were just two of the District's residents, jawing at a Popeye's Famous Fried Chicken eatery in Northeast a few minutes after their mayor had been given six months in prison for a drug offense. But their colloquy mirrored their city's conflicted response to the punishment of Marion Barry.

"You do the crime, you pay the price," said Cassandra Hargrove, 23, a cashier. "Come on now, Verlette. Think about the children. This man is supposed to be a role model."

"Marion Barry has already paid enough," shot back Verlette Simms, 59, a cook's helper. "Marion Barry should get a suspended sentence and do community work."

Like so much else about him and about his case, the sentencing of Marion Barry cleaved his city yesterday, with many labeling it the just deserts for a mayor who was treasonous to his own drug war and others condemning it as excessive and unfair compared with the fates of well-known white offenders.

Whether they approved or not, many community leaders and residents voiced sadness at the looming spectacle of the once-popular mayor of the nation's capital behind bars. Blacks in particular noted that Barry's sentence came during a week in which President Bush vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990 and the Ku Klux Klan was preparing to parade tomorrow on Constitution Avenue.

And there was disagreement over whether the sentence puts an end to the years of investigations, allegations and finally formal charges involving Barry and drugs -- or merely begins another chapter.

"Now that this episode is over, I hope the District can move on to new horizons under new leadership," said Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.), chairman of the D.C. Appropriations subcommittee.

But Kevin Chavous, a lawyer who was active in the recent student protest at the University of the District of Columbia, said the "something new" that had begun with the victory of Sharon Pratt Dixon in the Democratic primary might be jeopardized by the sentence.

"This whole situation has in effect been reopened," Chavous said. "There's going to be continued coverage of his appeal, there's going to be coverage when he begins his jail sentence, there's going to be coverage of how he's doing, when he gets out. This is not the type of closure that I think the city needs and deserves."

But the head of the Metropolitan Council of the AFL-CIO, Joslyn Williams, said the city was too exhausted by the Barry case to become overwrought again. "By now our pain is kind of deadened, Williams said. "We have gone through so much that I am not quite sure anything that takes place from here on out is going to be that great a surprise to this city. We've been kind of preparing ourselves for the worst, hoping the city would not be put through the indignity of the chief executive having to serve time."

Repeatedly, those who applauded the sentence echoed U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's comments that Barry deserves to spend time in jail because he betrayed a public trust and became a poor example for children.

"For those who say that Barry is being held to a double standard, I agree. There should be a higher standard for public officials and athletes and others who are well known when it comes to punishment," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), a member of the Black Congressional Caucus and chairman of the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. "It is important to send a strong message . . . . There are so many people looking to him as a role model and their hearts were broken, as my political faith in him was broken."

"While it seems like a hard sentence, I think it may be helpful in sending a signal to the community, especially to the young," said A. Knighton Stanley, pastor of Peoples Congregational Church on 13th Street NW.

William Wrench, president of The Greater Washington Board of Trade, called the sentence "appropriate," given that "drugs are so pervasive in our community {and} we feel leading this kind of a fight to eradicate drugs is an effort that demands good judgment and integrity."

Former U.S. attorney Joseph E. diGenova, who was instrumental in the Barry investigations, called the sentence "fair" and said it was appropriate that Jackson considered Barry's "station in life as commander-in-chief of the drug war."

"It remains a very sad and tragic occurrence for him personally and for the city and I think what is most sad about it is he couldn't confront this problem earlier," diGenova said. Barry associates bore some responsibility along with him, he said. "They chose to avert their eyes and allow him and the city to go through this."

"The city has paid a dear price for a very strange, Faustian bargain that his supporters made with him for whatever reason," diGenova said.

Rep. Stan Parris (Va.), the ranking Republican on the House District Committee, said he hoped the sentence would show young people in Washington "that even the mayor can't beat the system, that there are penalties for substance abuse. If he'd gotten a slap on the wrist, that's what would have worried me."

On H Street NE, Wayne Robertson and Hasan Givens, both 12 and both students at Ludlow Taylor Elementary School, said they were happy Barry was going to go to jail, because he had let them down.

"He always told us to say no to drugs, but behind our backs he went and did it," Robertson said.

"Drugs," Hasan said, "are wrong."

Likewise, 10-year-old Melvin Bryant, also a Ludlow student, offered his judgment without even being prompted: "He shouldn't have been doing drugs and he wouldn't be going to jail."

Sitting with friends on Pennsylvania Avenue SE at lunchtime, Dick Henthorn, a data processing systems analyst for the Library of Congress, said he was "glad to see that he is going to jail."

"I think it is important he be punished," Henthorn said. "If the judge thinks six months is adequate, that satisfies me."

But many other residents and public officials called the sentence harsh for a first-time offender convicted of a misdemeanor. Many noted that high-level Reagan administration officials convicted of crimes, including former National Security Council aide Oliver North, had not gone to jail.

"One is forced to ask if there is a double standard operating in our judicial system," Jesse L. Jackson said. "We are reminded {that} Ollie North, operating with the approval of the White House, sabotaged our nation's foreign policy. He was convicted of a felony and given probation."

Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the NAACP, said that "little can be gained by sending the mayor to jail."

"We are not of the 'soft on crime' mentality," Hooks said. "However, I do believe that a first offender with a long record of devoted and unselfish service to the community, a previously unblemished record and unquestioned contributions to the city of Washington deserves alternative sentencing."

Ronald Walters, a political scientist at Howard University, said Judge Jackson himself had violated a community trust because a majority of D.C. residents did not want Barry to go to jail.

"In addition," said Walters, "there was this specious business about sending a signal. It may have some impact but I don't think these people on the corners give . . . two cents about Marion Barry. They are going to do their drugs."

Moreover, said Walters, because many whites are involved in the city's drug trade, "If someone wants to send a signal, start sending white officials to jail."

Sam Smith, editor of a community newspaper in Northwest, said the six-month sentence "reheightened a D.C. trauma we have just been recovering from" and was "an 18th-century response to a health problem."

"I don't think people who have an addiction problem should go to jail," Smith said. "It's a barbaric approach to someone who essentially has a health problem."

Mary Cox, a lawyer and independent candidate for mayor, who sat with Barry during his trial and was present when he was sentenced yesterday, said the decision reminded her of slave owners when they "take an African slave out in the public gallery and you whip him."

Jackson was saying, said Cox, that "we're not going to tolerate this kind of behavior from an arrogant black man." Coupled with the Klan march tomorrow, said Cox, the sentencing has left many residents "stunned" and "when their senses come to, you're going to hear something."

D.C. Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) said the sentence "smacks of unequal treatment."

"It looks like they threw the book," Rolark said. "In my opinion, the sentence was unduly harsh."

In Northwest Washington, the superintendent of a construction crew building a porch and a roof on a house said he hoped "they at least put him in seclusion and not treat him like a common criminal."

"It's terrible," said Rudolph Brooks, as sawdust swirled about him. "He hasn't done any more than any of the others. Are they going to sentence Bush? How about Nixon and all those other crooks on Capitol Hill? They should have given him community service."

Nubia Kai, a resident of Northwest, and Zayd A. Jabbar, a businessman on Georgia Avenue, both condemned the judge's decision, saying that Barry had been treated more harshly than a white offender would have been. "An injustice took place," said Jabbar, while Kai called the sentence "awful, a blatant show of racism."

Sharon Pratt Dixon, the Democratic nominee for mayor and the only mayoral candidate in the primary to call for Barry's resignation, said she was not surprised by the sentence because "the courts nowadays tend to make an example of people who are in significant offices."

Dixon said that while minorities were unduly singled out for investigation by government, "It's very hard for me to absolve anybody, particularly when they are a public official."

Republican mayoral nominee Maurice T. Turner Jr. was "deeply saddened" by the sentence, according to a spokesman, but felt it was time for the District to "move ahead to heal itself as Barry heals himself."

Staff writers Myra L. Dandridge, Sandra Evans, Mary Ann French and Nathan McCall contributed to this report.