The Cold Hard Truth

The Cold Hard Truth

By J.L. Chestnut, Jr.

Vol. 12, No. 1, 1990, pp. 16, 15

Herbert O. Reid, Sr., (Herb) is attorney for the Washington, D.C., municipal government and personal lawyer and advisor to Marion Barry, the embattled and dishonored mayor of the nation’s capitol city. Herb taught me criminal law at Howard University in Washington and subsequently taught Bruce Boynton and Governor Doug Wilder, whose class followed mine.

At Herb’s invitation I often return to Howard to lecture and judge students in moot court competition. I cannot be certain if I first met Barry in Herb’s office or in Walter Fauntroy’s church office, but I have known and liked Barry for a decade.

I did not know Barry when he was with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the 1960s. Jim Forman, Bernard Lafayette, Julian Bond, John Lewis and Worth Long were in my office almost daily. Barry was here, but I don’t remember him. He remembers me.

Julian Bond, who moved to Washington after very serious personal problems in Atlanta, ran into Vivian and me last summer at the New Orleans Jazz Festival and we talked about mutual friends. Julian said, “Marion has lost all sense of reality. I couldn’t believe what he said over his telephone and he knows it has to be tapped by the feds.”

Julian had no need to detail what Barry said on the telephone. I knew it had to do with drugs and women. Similar revelations have been around for years.

Neither Julian nor I made any other comment about Barry. We could only pray.

After the sky fell on Barry I made several telephone calls around Washington. Everyone agreed drug addiction spawns a euphoric, false sense of security and incredible arrogance. Herb commented, “No one, not even a loving wife, can really help an addict who thinks he needs no help.”

A black female official in Washington whom I have known for years was needlessly defensive and abrasive. She insisted Steve Smitherman (son of Mayor Joe) is a former mayor of Selma and wrongly accused me of covering for “the worst kind of Southern racist” and my hometown. She later composed herself and said, “Drugs and whiskey are often exclusive, but our boy had both monkeys at the same time.”

Jesse Jackson was due to address a meeting in Selma about the time of Barry’s arrest on drug charges. His secretary called to say he was in “a trance” over the arrest. Jesse canceled all commitments and was trying to figure what to do. I predict he will not run for office of mayor of Washington, D.C.

It was a depressing time. A sad, but hardly unique episode in today’s America. Some questions, however, must be answered.

Has Barry’s conduct undermined efforts to address the already debilitating drug scene in Washington? Will Washington ghetto youths become even more cynical? Was President George Bush’s drug conference in South America undermined to any appreciable extent by Barry’s arrest?

The answer to all three questions is no. Given the noise

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in the media, that may be difficult to believe.

The drug scene in Washington involves more money than many could count on a computer. Drug traffickers operate in open defiance of the White House, not to mention City Halls. Illegal drugs have entered every White House beginning with the administration of Richard Milhous Nixon. That is an open secret in Washington.

Scores of ghetto youth already have zero faith in the system or politicians who operate government. Ghetto youth can cite verse and chapter of drug traffickers who operate both with impunity and immunity. A misdemeanor bust for possession means nothing on the big city drug scene, even if the defendant is a mayor.

Barry’s arrest had no effect on Bush’s drug conference. The conference will result in little or nothing because the president brought only rhetoric and show.

What a world!


J. L. Chestnut is an Alabama trial lawyer and writer.