Marion Barry dies, faces his ultimate reward

How on earth am I supposed to observe the journalistic convention of not speaking ill of the recently departed? The New York Times and Washington Post both heroically attempt to present the good sides of the former Washington, DC mayor and councilman, while remaining honest enough about his many foibles and abject criminality to stay outside of Fantasyland. It’s an uneasy mix of “inspiring black supporters” and criminal convictions in both papers, with the Times, for once, more honest than the Post, which, after all, has home town readers who found Barry less than loathsome to consider.

Barry smoking crack, caught on surveillance camera

I am not in that camp. In fairness, Barry started off life with many disadvantages, the son of a Mississippi sharecropper who raised himself up through education and managed to inspire others. He was first elected to office in DC as a reformer, after dropping doctoral studies at the University of Tennessee in favor radical SNCC-style activism. The Times:

In June 1965 he moved to Washington, where reporters occasionally referred to him as a “dashiki-clad militant.” A powerful speaker and street campaigner, he began pressing for home rule for the District of Columbia. He had found fertile political soil, since residents had only recently won the right to vote in presidential elections and had virtually no say in governing themselves.

In 1967, Mr. Barry started a jobs program for poor blacks, winning federal grants worth several million dollars. He won his first election in February 1970, to a citizens’ board created to smooth relations between police officers and black residents. He was later president of the school board and City Council member.

The Post:

In the turbulence of the 1960s, Mr. Barry had made his mark in the national capital: a young civil rights activist, streetwise and confrontational, with an “in-your-face” style that won the hearts and minds of thousands in the most depressed and impoverished of Washington’s black neighborhoods. Over the years, their support would remain unshakable, even in the face of such crises as the conviction of high Barry administration staffers on charges involving political corruption, a soaring D.C. murder rate, deteriorating municipal services and Mr. Barry’s own incarceration.

He is credited with some accomplishments as mayor, school board member, and councilman, many of them symbolic, others the result of lavish spending, but overall there is no disagreement that his administration was consistently corrupt and incompetent.

This is what is seen as inspiring? That it can be portrayed as such, merely because of his hardscrabble origins and posing as a champion of blacks, is a betrayal of honest, hardworking African-Americans who deserve a lot more than corrupt incompetence, and yet seem to be told to settle for that on the basis of symbolism. The Post:

Residents of a city-operated nursing home had limbs amputated because of infected bedsores. Infant mortality and murder rates remained among the highest in the nation, and the Fire Department would plead that its ability to fight fires was seriously impaired. In the public schools, dropout rates remained high, test scores low.

Barry was a radical leftist. The Times:

His middle initial, S., originally stood for nothing, but in the late 1950s he adopted the middle name Shepilov, after Dmitri Shepilov, a purged member of the Soviet Communist Party.

He thought he was above the law, in matters large (smoking crack cocaine, massive corruption) and smaller. The Times:

Mr. Barry also showed lack of sound judgment as a motorist. In August 2014, after he was slightly injured in a crash while driving on the wrong side of the street, it was revealed that he had accumulated some $2,800 in fines for moving violations and parking infractions. He finally paid up.

The sad fact is that Barry exploited racial grievances and failed to honor the obligations he had to those with genuine grievances. He led them astray. The famous mock-Washington Post headline on a fantasized story on the looming end of the world applies to his career as well: “Women and minorities hardest hit.”

How on earth am I supposed to observe the journalistic convention of not speaking ill of the recently departed? The New York Times and Washington Post both heroically attempt to present the good sides of the former Washington, DC mayor and councilman, while remaining honest enough about his many foibles and abject criminality to stay outside of Fantasyland. It’s an uneasy mix of “inspiring black supporters” and criminal convictions in both papers, with the Times, for once, more honest than the Post, which, after all, has home town readers who found Barry less than loathsome to consider.

Barry smoking crack, caught on surveillance camera

I am not in that camp. In fairness, Barry started off life with many disadvantages, the son of a Mississippi sharecropper who raised himself up through education and managed to inspire others. He was first elected to office in DC as a reformer, after dropping doctoral studies at the University of Tennessee in favor radical SNCC-style activism. The Times:

In June 1965 he moved to Washington, where reporters occasionally referred to him as a “dashiki-clad militant.” A powerful speaker and street campaigner, he began pressing for home rule for the District of Columbia. He had found fertile political soil, since residents had only recently won the right to vote in presidential elections and had virtually no say in governing themselves.

In 1967, Mr. Barry started a jobs program for poor blacks, winning federal grants worth several million dollars. He won his first election in February 1970, to a citizens’ board created to smooth relations between police officers and black residents. He was later president of the school board and City Council member.

The Post:

In the turbulence of the 1960s, Mr. Barry had made his mark in the national capital: a young civil rights activist, streetwise and confrontational, with an “in-your-face” style that won the hearts and minds of thousands in the most depressed and impoverished of Washington’s black neighborhoods. Over the years, their support would remain unshakable, even in the face of such crises as the conviction of high Barry administration staffers on charges involving political corruption, a soaring D.C. murder rate, deteriorating municipal services and Mr. Barry’s own incarceration.

He is credited with some accomplishments as mayor, school board member, and councilman, many of them symbolic, others the result of lavish spending, but overall there is no disagreement that his administration was consistently corrupt and incompetent.

This is what is seen as inspiring? That it can be portrayed as such, merely because of his hardscrabble origins and posing as a champion of blacks, is a betrayal of honest, hardworking African-Americans who deserve a lot more than corrupt incompetence, and yet seem to be told to settle for that on the basis of symbolism. The Post:

Residents of a city-operated nursing home had limbs amputated because of infected bedsores. Infant mortality and murder rates remained among the highest in the nation, and the Fire Department would plead that its ability to fight fires was seriously impaired. In the public schools, dropout rates remained high, test scores low.

Barry was a radical leftist. The Times:

His middle initial, S., originally stood for nothing, but in the late 1950s he adopted the middle name Shepilov, after Dmitri Shepilov, a purged member of the Soviet Communist Party.

He thought he was above the law, in matters large (smoking crack cocaine, massive corruption) and smaller. The Times:

Mr. Barry also showed lack of sound judgment as a motorist. In August 2014, after he was slightly injured in a crash while driving on the wrong side of the street, it was revealed that he had accumulated some $2,800 in fines for moving violations and parking infractions. He finally paid up.

The sad fact is that Barry exploited racial grievances and failed to honor the obligations he had to those with genuine grievances. He led them astray. The famous mock-Washington Post headline on a fantasized story on the looming end of the world applies to his career as well: “Women and minorities hardest hit.”