City Paper Widget

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cheater's Guide to Dream City -- Part 15 (Knife in the Heart)

This is the fifteenth installment of a series (see the first installment here) summarizing the 1994 book Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood. This book has recently been republished as an ebook and a paper book. HBO has plans to use material from the book to make a movie about the life of Marion Barry.

Chapter 14: Knife in the Heart

This is the chapter where Marion Barry is caught on video smoking crack at the Vista Hotel.

The operation that eventually snagged Barry started with former Barry colleague Charles Lewis, who was facing a potential 200 years in prison on drug charges in DC and the US Virgin Islands.

"Federal officers worried that someone would try to kill Lewis in the District, so they moved him to a more secure jail in Alexandria, Virginia, right across the Potomac River, and to [a secure FBI building in] Quantico for serious questioning" (Kindle location 4420).

"The prosecutor and FBI agents participated, but the [DC] police officers controlled the session. Lewis described his first trips with Barry to the Virgin Islands back in 1986, when they first used cocaine together. He gave them fresh details of Barry's visit in 1988 as part of the government-to-government personnel project, and he described the parade of women that he brought to the mayor's room" (l. 4435).

Lewis also identified Barry's longtime loved and cocaine supplier, Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore, from a photograph. Moore had left the DC area and was living under greatly reduced circumstances with her children in New York and Los Angeles, addicted to alcohol and drugs. The FBI couldn't find her, so they put out a warrant.

On December 31, 1988, Moore was arrested in Los Angeles for driving under the influence of alcohol. FBI agents travelled to Los Angeles to speak with Moore.

"They gave her a choice: Cooperate with the investigation or face at minimum a perjury chrage, which was enough to send her to prison on a felony count that would probably cost her the custody of her children. Moore made no immediate decision, but ... agents brought her and the children back to Washington..." (l. 4505).

Barry's behavior was increasingly erratic, while insisting he was clean and sober. Some friends and allies tried to convince Barry not to run, but Barry planned to announce his intention to seek re-election on January 21, 1989 1990.

At the same time, Moore agreed to act as bait in an FBI setup to trap Barry. It was originally scheduled for January 15 -- Martin Luther King's birthday. Concerned about appearances, the FBI postponed the sting until January 18.

In the early evening of January 18, Barry was trying to convince a wealthy attorney to back his campaign. He received a phone call. Barry told the attorney he had to be at a political event that evening. But the caller was Moore, calling from room 727 of the Vista Hotel.

Barry arrived at room 727 at 7:35pm. In one adjointing room were FBI agents; in the other, technical equipment. He had said he didn't want to come to the room, but was eventually persuaded.

"Moore kept steering the conversation to drugs, but she was under orders not to specifically say anything about drugs unless Barry brought it up; Barry was focusing on her body..." (l. 4603).

"A minute left [Barry] said he didn't 'have anything' and asked Moore, 'How about you?' " (l. 4605).

An FBI agent posing as a drug dealer came with some crack cocaine. Barry said he didn't smoke crack, but, after several nerve-wracking minutes for the FBI, Barry changed his mind.

"In the back of his mind, Barry may have thought that he was being watched. But now he was breaking the crack into little pieces by the light of the table lamp. Moore coaxed him and coached him. They jousted and hustled each other for a full three minutes. Finally, he took the pipe and the lighter, put the pipe to his lips, lit the crack, took a long, slow pull, and drew the crack smoke into his lungs" (l. 4640).

At 8:27pm, Barry called for his personal security detail. Before they could arrive, the FBI burst in and arrested Barry.

"An agent told Barry of his right to remain silent and talk to a lawyer."

" 'Yeah,' he said. 'I know all that'."

" 'Bitch set me up,' he said, interrupting the recitation of his rights. He said it again and again like a mantra, as if understanding it could make it go away" (l. 4664).

The media found out almost immediately. One of the first reporters on the scene was Tom Sherwood, co-writer of this book. "But no one outside the hotel was talking" (l. 4675).

Up in room 727, police were talking to Barry.

"Standing now at the edge of the bed, Barry could fit everyman's stereotype, a caricature to fit any prejudice. For the white racist, he was a typical black man, dumb enough to walk into a trip because he couldn't resist sex and drugs. For many African Americans, he was a black leader hounded and investigated, and finally humiliated by a racist white society. For those who could see beyond the caricature, he was the sad civil rights leader who had risen to political power, and by his own devices, squandered his opportunity" (l. 4697).

"A few minutes later, amid the crackling of police radios, [the police] led Barry out the door, down a service elevator, out the hotel's basement door, and into a blue FBI Chevy Suburban with smoked windows for the thirteen-block ride. At the FBI offices, the mayor had his urine taken, his blood sampled, and his hair snipped to check for the levels of cocaine. The operation was so quietly done that even many hotel employees did not realize what had happened. But within the next hour, WRC-TV broadcast news of the arrest. Camera and reporters from the local, national, and international news media all arrived at the Vista to stun the city and country with the shattering news" (l. 4711).

See the unedited 87-minute video of Barry's visit to the Vista Hotel and arrest here.

Cheater's Guide to Dream City continues next week

Further installments will appear on successive Fridays. All posts will be cross-posted on the ad-hoc "Cheater's Guide to Dream City" blog.

Full disclosure: I have a commercial relationship with Amazon. I will receive a very small portion of the money people spend after clicking on an Amazon link on this site.

This is a great book and well worth reading in its entirety.

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