The Rev. Graylan Hagler knows what it's like to be accused in the media of an act he knew he hadn't committed.
He recalls taking part in a march in another city and having a police officer accuse him of trying to kill him.
"Everyone said, 'yeah, he did it.' But after a few months, it all disappeared," said Hagler, one of the leaders of a demonstration in support of Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Wednesday, July 18. "I've had personal experience with this. There's something categorically wrong to pile on people when they are down instead of offering compassion."
Hagler, pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Northeast, counted as one of a diverse group of Gray supporters who gathered on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest to express their opposition to calls by three D.C. council members for Gray to step down. Supporters braved temperatures in the high 90s and a wall of humidity to make their voices heard.
"In America, we have an investigation, not an inquisition, evidence, not evidently," said Johnny Barnes, former executive director of the National Capital Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "We celebrate Times Square, not Tiananmen Square. Gossip, innuendo, whispering. That's not the way we do this. The U.S. Attorney has enough resources to ferret out the facts."
"Without reasonable doubt, all of us would be in jail."
Gray (D), 69, has been under fire since longtime friend and associate Jeanne Clarke Harris recently pled guilty in federal court to violating District and federal campaign finance laws, engaging in fraud, giving false statements and obstructing justice. She is the third Gray campaign official to plead guilty to local and federal crimes in recent months.
Harris's court appearance prompted D.C. Council members Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and David Catania (I-At Large) to demand Gray's resignation. Gray has denied any wrongdoing and has steadfastly refused to resign.
Shirley Rivers Smith worked for Gray as a campaign and poll worker and as a volunteer during the last campaign in Ward 5 and said she saw nothing of what is being reported in the media as a shadow campaign.
"I didn't see anything that wasn't above-board," said Smith, 70. "I didn't see or hear any of this. To hear this now, it's not fair. Mayor Gray is working hard, working as hard as Marion [Barry] in his day. I want him [Gray] to continue what he's doing."
Smith took Bowser to task for her role in calling for Gray to step down.
"She should be ashamed of herself," said Smith. "Muriel should sit her little self down and not stick with those racists Cheh and Catania. They will use her and dispose of her."
Rick Rosendall was among several speakers who criticized the U.S. Attorney's Office "whose slow dribbling out of information has set off a media feeding frenzy and a rush to judgment that serve neither justice nor the city's interests."
Rosendall dismissed claims that Gray has been rendered ineffective adding that "the prosecutorial targeting of Gray and other top D.C. officials picks at the scab of colonialism which has long characterized the federal government's treatment of the nation's capital and its residents."
He said he considers Gray a lifelong ally and demanded that Gray be afforded the respect due to him as mayor of the nation's capital.
"Contrary to the cries that Washington's well-being requires an immediate resignation, our city is thriving," said Rosendall, vice president for political affairs with the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA). "Gray has been an effective mayor. Crime is down and the city's population is up. Construction cranes proliferate across the skyline. The D.C. Council is taking a two-month break. And the mayor has not been charged with any crime."
D.C. Democratic Assemblyman Dave Donaldson characterized the situation Gray is involved in as an "unnecessary ado."
"I worked in the campaign, worked with him," said Donaldson. "I'm here to back him, I'm for him. Let the process take its course. He's been prejudged. Let him do his job. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think he wasn't guilty."
"I think it's reckless of the media to do what it has done. We understand the office. He's done a great job, made promises and fulfilled them. I think he trusted the wrong people when he put his crew together. He made mistakes and will have to make some changes. At the end of the day, Vince will be fine."
A pair of individuals who have worked in political circles for years reiterated their belief that Gray has done nothing wrong. They pointed to the fact that when he ran for mayor, he was also serving as chairman of the D.C. Council and operating under a shortened campaign schedule. It is entirely reasonable, they argued, that Gray's campaign aides and associates kept him in the dark about the shadow campaign.
"Just being associated with a bad person doesn't make you a bad person," he said. "Whether I was Martin Luther King or the Pope, if I had the apparatus of the U.S. Attorney's Office, I could find them guilty."
At the end of the day, said Hagler and Union Temple's senior pastor the Rev. Willie Wilson, cooler heads must prevail.
"I call on the council to chill out," said Wilson to the crowd. "It's premature calling for the mayor's resignation. I'm proud to be out here supporting him."
"I think it's unfair to say our administration is corrupt," Gray told members of the media at his weekly press conference on July 11. "I have distinguished between the campaign and administration. If there's something about our administration you want to put your finger on, I would invite you to do that but I think that's a very unfair characterization."
"As you'll remember, I'm the one who called for an investigation of my own campaign. And we will continue to work with the investigation. A lot of people will probably have that question but I get up every morning and look in the mirror and see someone I respect..."
Gray continues to deny any knowledge of the shadow campaign or any wrongdoing.
Harris, 75, admitted in court to overseeing the disbursement of $653,800 to fund the shadow campaign, and she said she enlisted relatives, friends and employees as "straw donors" to direct an additional $38,000 into the Gray campaign. The money is believed to have come from powerful political donor and kingmaker Jeffrey Thompson.