When Left Unaccountable

The summer of 1990 was not a good one for Washington, DC politics. The foremost factor, of course, was the cocaine possession and perjury trial of Mayor Marion Barry.

The media loved this show. It had sex, drugs, power, and politics. But it left the hotly contested campaigns for mayor, city council, and the non-voting congressional delegate in the background until it was too late to discuss the issues, which are real life-and-death matters in the District currently. Instead it's been a "personality parade" summer.

The Barry trial has meant that a substantial changing of the guard is in the offing. But it's a mercenary army that is forming. The post-civil rights leadership, for whom the battle was viewed from the sidelines, is often more interested in personal power than in social transformation.

Even the current administration, embattled by court cases and media scrutiny, with its roots in the civil rights era, seems to be more involved in saving its own neck than in providing healing. Noted civil rights leader Roger Wilkins calls this "empowerment by victimization."

By drawing on the common African-American experience of racism, Marion Barry has made the issue of his cocaine involvement into a case about the harassment of black elected officials. As he often pointed out, more than 50 elected black leaders are under indictment or investigation by the federal government. Most of these cases as they have progressed have been dropped due to insufficient evidence.

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