March 21, 1990
Mayor Marion Barry
Dear Mr. Barry:
Whether we subscribe to the theory of creation or to the theory of evolution, it is clear that human beings share at least two characteristics in common: 1) we all come from the same place, and 2) none of us is perfect so we all make mistakes.
Recently Clara Porter, Ellen Thomas, and I met with Ben Johnson and Ann Avelino, assistants to Roland Turpin at the Department of Public and Assisted Housing, with reference to a project we've been working on. See enclosed Action Updates, March 19, 1990 and February 19, 1990.
At one point in our discussion it appeared that we may have approached a spiritual commonality. Mr. Johnson asserted that the District of Columbia was doing more for the homeless than any other community in the country. I said that God would bless the District for it. Mr. Johnson suggested prayers that God would bless the District with your rapid recovery so that you can get back to leading the city. We're praying for you.
Doubtlessly you've been in tough spots before. With God's help you might get out of this one. If you do it'll probably look like a miracle. It won't be easy. As you know, the press is asking questions, e.g.:
"(W)hile Barry has obviously learned how to talk the talk of recovery from substance abuse, the question remains; can he walk the walk?" Washington Post, March 15, 1990, page D.C. 1.
We have some observations which you might find helpful in working a miracle.
A good place to start making amends would be in opposing budget cuts against the homeless. The taxpayers provided the funds. It seems only honest to recognize that your administrative personnel channeled the taxpayers' funds unwisely. Mightn't it be ungodly to punish the poor for the poor decisions of administrators?
If the value of a culture (city) is accurately reflected in the treatment of its least privileged members, perhaps it is time to concentrate on assisting those whose human needs are greatest. Some ideas:
a. Rather than support welfare motels, rapidly identify and release currently boarded-up city-owned buildings for renovation into transitional housing.
b. Instruct your staff to create and maintain a central data-base of ALL city-owned properties, their legal and physical status, and which department administers them, to ensure accountability.
c. Support our idea of problem-solving by community cooperation: identify a vacant building for the Good Neighbors Project to renovate, using donated materials and volunteer labor, to provide showers and lockers for the shelterless who can't hope to get a job - or home without a bath. (See enclosures -"Dear Neighbor" letter; Library of Congress Protective Services memo; see also, Atchison et. al. v. Marion S. Barry, Jr. et. al., D.C. Super. Case No. Ca-11976-88, Order, filed December 21, 1989, at page 3 - to better understand this disturbing situation.)
Of course, you know this city much better than we do. Please correct us if we're wrong, but hasn't the number of people imprisoned by your government doubled since 1981? Do our own experiences deceive us, or has the number of people sleeping on sidewalks and in doorways also at least doubled during that same time period? Hasn't the number of murders within the District (the great majority of victims being black) increased better than 400% since 1981?
Even if there isn't a shred of substance to the tales of your cocaine abuse, wouldn't it still have been much wiser for you to have adopted Mayor Schmolke's attitude of individual choice, rather than choosing to toe Nancy Reagan's "just say no" policy-line? While kowtowing to the drug czars, haven't you led your people into a promised land of violence, heartless streets and prisons?
On the theory that "truth will set you free," ditch drug czar jive and help take the profit out of drugs. Decriminalize. Educate. Rehabilitate. It might take balls, but that you've got ... and little to lose.
Legend has it that in your youth you didn't shy from radical action. At this point some well reasoned radical action couldn't do you much harm. If your motives are pure, God willing, some radical do-gooding might even prove to be our city's salvation.
Jesus said, "As you have treated the least of your brethren so you have treated me." A leader transmits values only by example.
In service to the God of love,