City Paper is not for tourists
This weekend, Marion Barry engaged in some rather questionable behavior. The councilmember allegedly snuck into his ex-girlfriend’s house and later found and/or followed her in his car and was arrested on stalking charges. He had also allegedly locked her out of his hotel room in Denver during the Democratic Convention and canceled her return flight to D.C. The two apparently weren’t soul mates. All of this behavior is stunning considering that Barry really, really does not like being stalked.
Barry especially doesn’t like being stalked by reporters. In fact, he has quite the history of using the police to prevent reporters from following him.
I reported on the former mayor’s drug problems in 2006. During the reporting of that story, part of our job was to follow him around, see who he hung out with, and how he spent his time. After leaving a community event, we followed him in my crummy Corolla. Full disclosure: Our cop skills were really lame.
We didn’t get very far before Barry pulled into a liquor store parking lot. Like dummies, we stopped too, even pulling in directly behind him. Barry got out of his car and promptly dialed 911.
Myself and another reporter sat in our car trying to figure out what to do. Barry had made it clear that he would not to talk to us; he was still holding true to his interview ban with City Paper reporters. We could only follow him and report what we saw. After a few moments, I decided to confront the councilmember.
“I’m calling the police,” Barry mumbled as I walked up beside him.
“That’s ironic—-you calling the police,” I replied. Full disclosure: I was pissed off at Barry for calling the cops. Seemed like such a dramatic waste of time.
Barry argued that what we were doing was harassment. I started asking him questions about his drug test, I believe. A member of his entourage stood nearby. He was dressed in sweatpants. And like Barry, he had his ear to a cellphone.
“I’m on the phone here,” the Sweatpants Man said. He added that he could “get some boys to come over and take care of the situation.” He then pointed to the nearby neighborhood. The man making those threats was the Rev. Anthony Motley.
“What are they going to do? Kill us?” I asked.
I thought the whole scene was getting silly. Motley was all bluff. We ended up bailing before the cops showed up. This encounter just wasn’t necessary and added nothing to our reporting. The real reporting came from his council record and what his neighbors saw him do (i.e. buy drugs).
Reached today, Motley says he doesn’t recall the incident.
On a subsequent night, two other reporters were tasked to follow Barry. They were parked outside Barry’s girlfriend’s apartment complex. At around 11 p.m., the councilmember drove away. The reporters attempted to follow him.
Barry pulled up alongside two D.C. police cruisers. They chatted for a while. The cops then blocked the street, and Barry drove away. The cops told the reporters that they had to wait a while. After five minutes, the police officers moved their cars and let the reporters pass.
In 2004, I was on another Barry story—this time chronicling his successful hobble toward winning the Ward 8 council seat. On the Sunday before the primary, Barry threatened us with police intervention if we didn’t leave a public street near his apartment. We refused. The cops never showed up.
While Barry is always quick to claim that he is the victim of police harassment, he did not hesitate using rank-and-file cops to get what he wants. In our case, that meant not answering questions or not letting reporters see what he does with his late-night downtime.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery