By Paul Coates, Special to AFRO

In the matter of the U.S. Department of Justice vs. Catherine Pugh, I am not a disinterested party. I’m very interested, and for the last 9 months, I have watched this process unfold and had to remain quiet. Catherine legally and emotionally has been muzzled. No one on this earth can punish her more than she has punished herself. I want to be clear that I am not an apologist for Catherine and I do not speak for her. She’ll speak and say what she has to say at the appropriate time. I am an observer, who has been close enough to have a context for what’s happening. 

First the indictment; when the FBI, State and local investigators come at you like this, they do not talk to you. They are relentless unless you have dirt to exchange for your own skin. Catherine did not, and if you read closely, there are no charges of government corruption. Without her having anything to trade, they  proceeded to put together, from their sources, their best guess at a case against her. Eleven indictments, or charges of wrong-doing were the result. You have nothing to bargain, so you face the charges. But wait. You and your lawyers notice that most of the charges are bogus and can’t stand. 

Paul Coates (Courtesy Photo)

Your lawyers raise this fact to the prosecutors, and they agree to not argue those charges, that is, if you plead guilty to what remains. They have what they wanted, the headline of the 11 indictments. You have a choice. Even if you want to challenge the remaining four charges, you know you have to fight all 11 because they will then bring the bogus ones back. And you know if you lose on any of the charges you will face, in this case, 25 to 100 years…years you do not have. What would you do? Like Catherine and so many others entangled in the American injustice system, I would probably plead guilty, hoping to clarify my guilt in front of the judge at sentencing, and clarify for the record some of the crap from my plea. 

Again, this is not an apology, and I am not disinterested. Catherine is my friend, and I know there has not been one day since this turmoil began that she has not tortured herself for her errors. She will carry this experience for the rest of her life. I have never seen anyone punish themselves so thoroughly. It is sad to watch, because, on the other hand, I’ve seen the lengths prosecutors have pursued to wave her broken body in front of the masses, in an effort to make people think they are cleaning up corruption…really. Like others I have watched as charges of corruption have evolved from a UMMS scandal, to a “Healthy Holly and Catherine Pugh scandal.” What happened to the other board members forced to step down from University of Maryland Medical System Board and related hospital boards because of questionable “deals” with the hospital system. The optics of Catherine a Black women held up as the culprit while others, all White males, who by their own admissions made millions off their “deals,” is not missed.  

This is not to use race as an excuse for anything Catherine has done. Catherine has not. Never once in our many conversations has she raised race as a factor. She has been self-absorbed with her actions, and her responsibility. But I raise it, because this is America, and race has always been a factor, and in this case a possible factor in who gets charged and punished. And I am not happy watching the White boys make an apparent getaway unseen and uncharged. If race is not a factor what am I seeing? 

Catherine was a hero to me before she became Mayor of Baltimore City, and she still is. The Catherine Pugh I know is a woman whose core essence has always been about building and fixing something in our community.  She is a quick study, who saw change where others saw problems. 

She provided the founding vison for the now 20-year-old Baltimore Marathon, which has brought thousands of visitors and millions of dollars to the city. That same Catherine Pugh created the Baltimore Fish Out of Water project, which cleared over a million dollars to fund schools and literacy programs. Her service to non-profit boards of city-wide literary, arts, and health organizations is documented and well-known. All of this was before she became mayor. And there’s so much more I can say about her service to the community.   

I like badass Black men and women who love our community, even when they sometimes make mistakes. Her goal in wanting to become mayor, was not to steal, but to serve. Unfortunately, she made missteps and bad decisions along the way. But do not trust the narrative that various media outlets are feeding you. Most of them are simply repeating the many bogus charges the federal government has since backed away from. And keep watching the optics. Do believe what your eyes see.

Catherine, like most of us, has made mistakes. Unlike most of us, she has also done tons and tons of good. That good must be weighed against her mistakes. Some may disagree, but I want her back doing good, working in our community, This story does not end here.

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