Only Barry Destroyed Barry

Carl T. Rowan

October 31, 1990|By Carl T. Rowan

WASHINGTON — Washington.

I ANGUISH with my black brothers and sisters every time I see them caught between distrust of the criminal justice system and demands that they defend a criminal just because he is of African-American heritage.

For days I have listened to black verbal warfare because this city's Mayor Marion Barry was sentenced to six months in prison, fined $5,000, ordered to pay the costs of his incarceration and given an additional year on probation that includes random drug tests -- all because Barry was found guilty of possessing illegal drugs.

''Unfair!'' some prominent blacks have shouted, while others have said, ''Commit the crime, you do the time.''

Barry and his shocked lawyer Kenneth Mundy said that white Judge Robert Penfield Jackson had made Barry a victim of our ''criminal injustice system.'' They said the judge had given mere probation to whites like Ronald Reagan's former aide Michael Deaver, who was convicted of a perjury felony, but sent to prison a black mayor convicted only of a first-offense misdemeanor.

Two points I want to make:

1. America's criminal justice system is tainted with racism, although not as cruelly and viciously as it was a generation ago. We now have black cops, bailiffs, sheriffs, U.S. marshals, police chiefs and judges beyond anything most of us could have dreamed of 50 years ago. Still, the system is so unfair that while almost one young black male out of four is imprisoned or otherwise caught up in the criminal justice system, only one out of 33 young white males is so afflicted.

2. But that does not erase the truth that Marion Barry is not the victim of either white bigotry or excesses by the black policemen and black lawyers who were instrumental in his conviction and his stiff sentence. Barry destroyed Barry! We black people will never erase the blatant bigotry that is endemic to our criminal justice system if we waste our protests on politicians who have broken the law and bragged about it, violated the public trust, betrayed black children, and used and abused the public servants who gave them almost blind loyalty. Which is what Barry did.

In his pre-sentencing plea for leniency Barry admitted for the first time that he is a ''drug addict'' and that over his years of abusing drugs he participated in ''activities and behavior . . . that were degrading and outrageous.'' Barry's words!

No judge, black or white, could have ignored this ''confession,'' which made it clear that Barry had lied to a grand jury when he swore he had never used illicit drugs; that one of the most prominent public officials in the land had obstructed justice. The judge had to consider this along with the technical fact that the jury convicted Barry of only one misdemeanor because Barry, defiant, boasting that he was ''invincible,'' never told the jury the truths that he told Judge Jackson when he was trying desperately to avoid a prison sentence.

I beg those crying that Barry got a bum rap to accept the reality that there are some ''crimes'' that affect judges that are never stipulated in the statutes. Barry's most unforgivable crime is that even when he was half-stoned on cocaine or crack he went to D.C. high schools to tell children that ''my mind is too sharp,'' or that his body was too precious, for him to abuse it with dope.

Some children knew better. I remember a tearful black woman doctor telling me how she had braced her teen-age son about drugs, only to have him say: ''But Mom, the mayor does dope.'' The black children knew what white prosecutors had trouble proving. Their black mayor had betrayed them.

Black parents must put the future of their children above the wasting of emotions about the jailing of a mayor who contributed massively to putting their youngsters into peril -- into the clutches of the drug cartels.

The drug cartels will own our children if we allow our kids to swallow the dopish argument that Mayor Barry is basically just a victim of racism.

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