Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013, January 06, 1984, Page 5, Image 5

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    I N S I G H T
Justice
served?
Assassin
Dan W hite
sprung
c 1983 M ichael H elquist
In a year that promises to be full of political
debate, 1984 starts right off in the very first
week with a major political and emotional
event in San Francisco. It is an event that
ripples with significance beyond the Bay
Area, especially to the lesbian and gay popu­
lation across the country. On January 6th
convicted assassin Dan White will be released
from prison after serving less than five years
for killing San Francisco Mayor George
Moscone and gay Supervisor Harvey Milk.
W hite’s sentence and his eventual release,
widely considered a “travesty of justice,” has
hung over this city for the last five years. Now
as the date of release nears, many gay men
and lesbians find that painful memories stir
their sense of outrage that has always been
just below the surface.
City-wide protests are planned, and indi­
viduals promise to let out their anger. And
am id the expected rallies, vigils, and disrup­
tions there is a growing awareness of the
dam age done five years ago not only to the
political process in San Francisco but also to
the well-being of its citizens, especially its gay
and lesbian population.
The five years have passed quickly since
the form er policeman and city supervisor
shot and killed Moscone and Milk in their City
Hall offices on November 27,1978. The as­
sassinations were followed by the trial in which
W hite’s attorney portrayed him as being of
“diminished capacity’’ due to stress and eat­
ing too much junk food (the ’Twinkie de­
fense”). When the verdict of voluntary mans­
laughter was delivered on May 21,1979, an
enraged gay community took to the streets to
protest the injustice they perceived. Confron­
tations with the police led to a major disturb­
ance, later dubbed the “White Night Riots."
Protestors smashed City Hall windows and
torched a number of police cars. Later in the
evening the police retaliated with an incur­
sion into the gay Castro district threatening
gays on the streets and trashing a popular
com er bar. There were injuries on both sides,
although most damage occurred to buildings
and other property.
In comparison, the four and a half years
since the White Night Riots have been rela­
tively calm in San Francisco. Many observers
express dismay over the more conservative,
more downtown business-oriented turn the
city has taken under Moscone’s successor.
Mayor Dianne Feinstein. The lesbian and gay
population has received some support from
Just Out January 6-January 20
the city government (i.e. funding for AIDS-
related services) and some political setbacks
(i.e. Feinstein’s veto of legislation to grant city
benefits to the live-in lovers of city employ­
ees). Despite the political calm, several m em ­
bers of the gay comm unity have expressed
their ongoing anger over the Dan White affair.
Every year since 1978 gay and nongay San
Franciscans have observed the anniversary
of the assassinations with a candlelight march
from Castro Street to City Hall. This year’s
march was just as calm as those proceeding
it but there was an energy bristling through
the thousands of marchers. The federal gov­
ernm ent had announced several days earlier
that it would not prosecute Dan White on
charges of having obstructed the political
civil rights of Moscone and Milk. The last
hope for many that justice would be served
had been lost
Conversations with a variety of gay men
and lesbians revealed that the same sense of
outrage that fueled the fiery White Night Riots
also infuses the more orderly annual march.
Participants acknowledge that the marches
are simply expressions of intense feelings
ever-close to the surface. One member
am ong this year’s marchers was a 34 year old
gay m an named Tom. He has lived in San
Francisco these last five years and was wit­
ness to the events surrounding the assassi­
nations. W hite’s manslaughter verdict and
his upcoming release from prison have pro­
voked an ongoing intense response for Tom.
He explains, "I don’t like to have these feel­
ings in me, but when I think about it — the
murders and W hite’s release — I can imagine
that point that the anger erupted. Osm on
rem em bers, “There weren’t riots when Milk
was shot; it was after the judicial system be­
gan to send signals to the gay community
about the permissability of killing a gay, that
tensions increased.”
Noted gay historian Allan Berube still gets
upset when he remembers hearing the ver­
d ict He states, "It took me off-guard. I was
trying to determine my response to his get­
ting a life sentence or the death penalty. I
didn’t even imagine his getting off with only
five years. I was furious. I was shaking. I
couldn’t go in to work; I was too upset"
Video consultant Bill Bradley recalls, “The
assassinations devastated me. I felt a deep
sense of personal loss. We had a member of
our family killed, and then the murderer was
almost rewarded for his actions.” Health
worker Laurie Hauer expresses similar feel­
ings. She states, “I’m furious. I’ve done prison
work for years. I’ve seen the kind of sentences
received by those charged with petty forgery
and the like. They get years for their crimes. It
makes me furious to see White serve only five
years for the m urder of two people.”
A great number of lesbians and gay men,
especially those who lived in San Francisco
during the late '70s, express over and over
again in very personal terms their shock and
pain and anger over the Dan White incidents.
These are the emotions that are stirred now
that the next a c t the release of the assassin, is
about to be played out on January 6th.
"We want there to be a full day of protests;
we don’t want business as usual,” states Jim
Manus. Manus joined with a dozen friends
O n January 6th, convicted assassin Dan White will be released from
prison after serving less than five years for killing San Francisco Mayor
George Moscone and gay supervisor Harvey Milk.
killing him myself. And that’s not at all like
me.” Tom ’s voice catches a bit as he says that;
it’s clear that his feelings are so powerful that
he’s somewhat hesitant to express them.
The protests that are scheduled to occur
on January 6th will be fueled by emotions
similar to those mentioned by Tom. There
appears to be a consensus in the gay popula­
tion about what the killing of Harvey Milk and
the treatm ent of his assassin signifies. Rick
Osm on, a gay man who works with the San
Francisco AIDS Foundation, states his belief
that “if Mayor Moscone alone had been killed,
the assassination could have been considered
a political a c t The fact that White went in and
shot Moscone and then killed Milk as well was
a clear sign of his motivation. His only moti­
vation for the second killing was because Milk
was gay.”
Dan W hite was angry with the mayor be­
cause the latter refused to appoint him to the
city supervisor seat from which he had re­
cently resigned. White also had a history of
m aking homophobic statements. For many
in the gay population of San Francisco and
beyond, there’s a clear perception that one
man was killed for what he did and the other
for w h o he was. Osmon states, “Dan White
is only a symbol; he was a directly elected
manifestation of those feelings, that hatred of
gay people.”
The loss of a charismatic, elected leader
who was openly gay was a severe enough
blow to lesbian and gay people. But it was the
trial and the verdict that added severe insult to
the painful injury felt by so many. And it was at
and activists to form the Ad Hoc Committee
to Protest the Injustice. The committee has
urged residents of the city to not go to work
on January 6th and to join a noontime rally in
downtown San Francisco. Those who must
be at their jobs have been asked to participate
in a work stoppage from 1 pm to 1:15 pm, to
make noise, and to express their anger.
Manus continues, “There are a lot of angry
people out there who want their voices
heard.” He mentions that several taxi and bus
drivers, am ong others, have told him they’ll
observe the 15 minute protest "Lots of
people have contacted me about this,"
Manus reveals; “I’m sure there will be all kinds
of protests that day.”
In addition to the noon rally, there will be a
vigil that evening on Castro Street A march
to City Hall may follow that gathering. Some
individuals intend to form “human billboards"
of protest messages along major city streets
during the day. Others plan to hang banners
from high-rise windows. A new wave band
has organized a special “Rock Against
W hite" concert Already underway is a “Send
a Twink-a-Gram ” campaign, an effort to send
a Twinkie dessert cake — symbolic of the
successful defense case — plus a protest
message to President Reagan and to presi­
dential candidate John Glenn. Organizer
Rick Osm on states, “These two were chosen
because of their opposition to gay rights."
With "O ff White" graffiti posted in the
Castro district there has been an awareness
that White himself may be killed after his
release. No one has forecast or publicly
prom oted that act nor has anyone suggested
a need for a violent demonstration. A number
of observers in the gay comm unity believe a
riot would not be helpful to anyone. Historian
Allan Berube believes however that "there
should be lots of opportunities for people to
get as angry as they want, to yell and make
noise, to disrupt the daily routine." Berube
continues, “Dan White got off with the m ur­
der of two people on a defense of too much
stress. There are gay people who have been
under m ore stress a ll th e ir Hues than Dan
W hite has ever been under. And he has only
added to that stress.”
W hat has proved particularly infuriating to
many in San Francisco is W hite’s absolute
lack of any expressed remorse for his actions.
And it’s a com m on belief that in some sec­
tions of the city White is considered a hero.
W hite, hilmself, however may have a difficult
tim e after his release. As one comm entator
noted, "He can continue to be Dan White —
arrogant and without remorse — while he’s
protected in prison, but once he leaves prison
he'll never be able to be Dan White again.
He’ll have to give up his public identity."
The release itself has posed problems to
the State Parole Board. It’s now clear to pri­
son officials that the release of White will have
to be secret There are too many potential
security risks for a public release. Where
W hite and his family will live upon his release
is still to be worked o u t The San Francisco
Bay Area has been ruled out as a possible site
for W hite’s one-year parole period due mostly
to consideration of residents’ feelings and to
concern for W hite’s safety. Mayor Feinstein
has already stated that she didn’t want White
released in San Francisco. When word got
out that San Diego was being considered as a
possible parole site, vocal protest from that
city's gay population forced Mayor Roger
Hedgecock to protest such a possibility to the
State Departm ent of Corrections. Hedgecock
included in his statement a rather telling anal­
ysis. He stated that any major metropolitan
area would be unsuitable as a parole site for
W hite. W ith the political roles lesbians and
gay m en play in most major American cities,
it appears reasonable that there would be
strong protests to a release of someone like
Dan W hite to their cities.
W hatever difficulties are encountered dur­
ing Dan W hite’s release and presuming he
survives his one year of parole, he will then be
free to continue his life as he chooses. In the
minds of many is the fact that George
Moscone’s and Harvey Milk’s rights to do the
same were violently terminated by this man.
In San Francisco this widely-perceived
injustice will not go unnoticed on January
6th. But the focus won’t be on Dan White
alone. Rick Osm on expresses the sentiment
shared by many others. He states, “The
m arches and protests are vigils; they are re­
minders to the system, the judicial/political
system, that we in the gay comm unity are
aware of its inadequacies and its injustices.”
Allan Berube adds his thoughts about the
upcom ing release date, “The violence begun
by the assassination and the verdict is still
being done to people in the city. White’s re­
lease is the beginning of a new stage of it”
Berube offers a final thought that summarizes
the feelings of gay men and lesbians as it also
provides the context for the expected events
on January 6th. “The assassination of Harvey
Milk was an attack on the gay community.
And then the justice system completely failed
us. There was no recourse then — nor is
there now — but to protest”
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