The former mayor of Washington, D.C., Marion Barry (pictured) began on the right foot in life as a scrupulous activist who worked hard to plot a course that would eventually lead him to the American dream. Somewhere along the line, though, his path took a devastating twist, leading to his destruction. Did Barry become the victim of racists who discriminated against Blacks or did he just self-destruct?
Barry was an activist, legislator, and had the backing of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post, so why wouldn’t he win D.C.’s mayoral race of 1978? With the promise of improving the “bumbling and bungling” D.C. administration, Barry set his course, and his first term in office was once described as “methodical, competent, and intellectually superior.”
On the flip side, though, unemployment and crime rates soared, the promise of improved public housing was slow and coming, and the city’s deficit — which was $258 million — had become a major problem. All of a sudden, mini-scandals began to surface involving Barry and his administrative minions. Reportedly, there was graft and embezzlement, financial malfeasances among his “dream team” staff, and Barry was allegedly seen dabbling in cocaine use at downtown nightclubs.
In Barry’s second term of office, the press got wind of the very-married mayor’s womanizing ways, drug, and alcohol abuse. The D.C. politico was under everyone’s radar at this point, and his devil-may-care usage of cocaine in public became fodder for the media. In 1984, Barry’s onetime lover Karen Johnson was convicted of cocaine possession and contempt of court for refusing to testify to a grand jury about her former lover’s drug use.
By the time Barry was in his third term of office, his reported alcohol and drug use had spiraled out of control. In public, the effects of his addictions became noticeable in his appearance and his speech. He would arrive to work midday and fall asleep at his desk. He could allegedly no longer properly function as the city’s mayor and was urged by close associates to not run again. Consequently, the city declined badly, with Barry turning into a derelict.
The year 1987 was a banner year for crack use in D.C. Drug lords were seizing the city, homicides were at an all-time high — and remained so until 1990. D.C. had now become the murder capitol of the nation and was unraveling at the seams. Police had no cars to get to crime scenes, EMS went to wrong addresses or barely responded, and D.C.’s public agencies fell by the wayside.
For six years, Barry was being watched by the feds, because they suspected him of illegal drug possession and use along with his political cohorts. On December 22, 1988, police officers were about to make an undercover drug buy from Charles Lewis, a former Virgin Islands official and friend of Barry, but they were ordered to back off when they learned that the mayor was in Lewis’s hotel room. One month later, Barry had to testify before a grand jury about Lewis, who then told reporters that he had done nothing wrong.
By the time 1989 rolled around, the walls were quickly closing in on Barry, with Lewis being convicted of four counts of cocaine possession in the Virgin Islands and facing multiple charges in Washington, D.C.
On November 6, 1989, Lewis pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges and spilled the beans to authorities that he had been buying crack for Barry.
Barry was arrested on January 18, 1990, in Washington’s Vista Hotel, and he was charged with smoking crack with Rasheeda Moore, who was a former model who cooperated with the FBI in setting up Barry’s drug arrest. She testified during his trial that they had habitually abused cocaine, marijuana, opium, and crack “over 100 times.” The woman also revealed that her relationship with Barry had also been sexual and that they used drugs at all hours and in all places, from government offices to hotels to a drug dealer’s rooming house to his own home.
In June 1990, Barry announced before the start of his trial that he would not seek a fourth term in office. Barry’s drug trial lasted eight weeks, and ironically, many of his supporters were not only saddened but angered by the testimonies that portrayed their mayor as a drug user.
Watch news coverage of Barry’s drug bust here:
Those constituents who stood by Barry thought that he was framed by White prosecutors because he was one of the country’s leading Black politicians at the time.
On August 10, 1990, out of the 14 counts against Barry, the jury came back with a single misdemeanor conviction of cocaine usage. Six or seven jurors were White and the rest were Black. Reportedly, the African American jurors staunchly believed that the prosecution had falsified evidence and testimony, creating a racist attack against the politician.
Two months later, Barry resigned from his position as mayor of D.C. He was then sentenced to a six-month prison term. In October 1991, Barry was sent to a correctional facility in Petersburg, Va. He was then transferred to another facility in Loretto, Pa., because during his prison stint, he was accused of allowing a woman to perform oral sex on him while in a prison waiting room. He was released from prison in April 1992.
There are those who believe that Black politicians are subjected to wiretapping and engineered plots by White racists who want them to fail. Does the government look to single out or discredit Black elected officials? Is the White establishment constantly on a seek and destroy mission to knock off our leaders?
You be the judge!