Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Nov 27, 1978: George Moscone and Harvey Milk are murdered

On this day in 1978 former Board of Supervisors member Dan White murdered Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk at City Hall in San Francisco, California. 

White, who snuck into San Francisco's government offices with a .38 revolver, had reportedly been angry about Moscone's decision not to reappoint him to the city board. Shooting the mayor first, White then reloaded his pistol and went to the office of his rival Harvey Milk, who was one of the nation's first openly gay politicians and a much-admired activist in San Francisco. He asked to speak to Harvey privately and then shot him multiple times.

Future Mayor and California Senator and then-Supervisor Dianne Feinstein, who was the first to find Milk's body, found herself addressing a stunned crowd at City Hall. "As president of the Board of Supervisors, it's my duty to make this announcement: Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed. The suspect is supervisor Dan White."

White, who was caught soon after the murders, pleaded a "diminished capacity" defense, claiming that copious amounts of junk food, combined with distress over the loss of his job, caused him to suffer mental problems. The so-called "Twinkie Defense" appeared to be successful, and, in 1979, White was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder. Public outrage was so widespread that California revoked the diminished capacity defense in subsequent cases.

Following the murders, both riots and peaceful candlelight demonstrations took place as the city of San Francisco publicly mourned the loss of two of its most cherished and respected civic leaders. For his crime, White received a five-year prison sentence. After his release, he was unable to resume a normal life, and he committed suicide in 1986.

Personal Note: I was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and was living in “the city” in 1978. I knew Harvey Milk and had dinner and drinks with him on several occasions. Harvey was a good man but he was a dedicated activist. As such he could be a little wearisome at times. Had he lived, I am sure he would have become the “Al Sharpton” of the Gay Community.

I was there for the Candle Light Vigil and March from Castro Street to the steps of City Hall. The organizers lost control of the crowd, which numbered over ten thousand, and 3 days of riots followed. It was a terrifying thing to witness as otherwise normal and law obeying citizens smashed windows and over-turned police cars setting them ablaze. What emerged was a complete reversal of attitude and policies. San Francisco today is a city with an almost paranoid tolerance of the rights of individuals and minorities.

Today's Reflection:
A dog has an owner. A cat has a staff.
Live Long and Prosper...

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