D.C. Residents Dispute Harassment of Black Politicians

James Wright | 6/13/2012, 11:45 a.m.

While the mayor of the District, the chairman of the D.C. Council and a former D.C. Council member have been prosecuted or are under investigation by federal authorities, some D.C. residents don't believe they're being targeted because of their race.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D), is a subject of a federal investigation into his 2010 mayoral campaign activities and former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown pleaded guilty to bank-loan fraud in federal court and violation of campaign laws in D.C. Superior court on Fri., June 8 while Harry Thomas Jr., a former Ward 5 D.C. Council member, is set to spend 38 months in prison for criminal misuse of $350,000 of public money. Michael Hudgins, a resident of Northwest, said their being black has nothing to do with their legal problems.

"I do understand why African Americans might feel that way," said Hudgins, 41. "With the way that the population of African Americans in the city is decreasing there is a sense among some that black people are being pushed out of the city. I do know that there is tension surrounding Vincent Gray and some African Americans in the city."

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 increased the number of black public officials throughout the country exponentially. Ten years after the legislation, there were black mayors of cities such as the District, Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles and smaller Southern cities and towns with strong black populations.

In addition, the number of blacks on city and county councils, state legislatures and members of the U.S. House of Representatives also ballooned in size.

However, it was revealed in the October 1996 edition of Emerge magazine, that there has been an effort to obtain incriminating information on black public officials. The magazine interviewed Robert Moussallem, an FBI informant who spied on the activities of black elected officials in Atlanta, with the intent of destroying their careers.

Moussallem said that the FBI at the time thought that blacks were "intellectually and socially incapable of governing major government organizations and institutions."

Black political office holders, activists and observers often talk about how black politicians are held to higher standards than their white counterparts. Renee Perry, a resident of Northeast, agrees in principle.

"Why do you have the investigations of Gray and Brown right now?" Perry, 52, asked rhetorically. "Look at what is happening on H Street [Northeast] and look at all of those Republicans in the U.S. Congress. Everything is connected and we are not hearing the whole truth about why Mayor Gray and Kwame Brown are being targeted."

Perry noted that "the minute Vincent Gray was sworn into office, they attacked his character."

"I like Vincent Gray and I think he is doing a good job and nobody is perfect," she said. "I think his predecessor, Adrian Fenty, was more to the liking of white people. Black people who do what white people want them to do tend to be left alone."

However, Chuck Thies, a political analyst who is white, said that whites are not out to get black elected officials.