Four friends and two experiences give me a unique perspective on the issue of Dan White.
Dan White shot Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk on a Monday morning in San Francisco 1978. It was Monday November 27th.
Both George and Harvey were acquaintances of mine. But they are not the four relevant friends I am talking about here.
Monday the 27th was nine days after the Jim Jones Jonestown suicide. It is relevant because we in San Francisco began learning about the event on Monday the 20th. At the time we saw headlines about 2-300 dead. We knew that most of them were black San Franciscans. Then every day the news reported a larger number. By Friday the 24th the number of dead had climbed to over 900. The city was in a state of shock. Some strange form of stunned hysteria.
On Sunday the 26th Glide Church was scheduled to hold its two regular morning services (called ‘celebrations’). The atmosphere was so dark and unearthly that I, as the business manager of Glide, ordered a dog bomb search of the church in addition to the regular careful check of the church halls and sanctuary.
I also put a sniper on the roof of the church and hired three extra staff to handle the crowd. I sensed a very bad public milieu. Nothing happened at Glide that day.
On Sunday afternoon one of my closest friends, Bob Gnaizda, went to talk to Mayor Moscone. I learned this years later. Bob had been the main lawyer in getting a court settlement to integrate the S.F. Police Department.
White, formerly an S.F. police officer, had resigned from the Board of Supervisors two weeks earlier because he couldn’t live on the salary. After friends said they could get him plenty of money, he asked the mayor to re-appoint him to his seat on the Board. White was a vote against the execution of the court ordered police department integration.
Bob was the last person that day to talk to the mayor and he urged the mayor to not reappoint White. The mayor made it clear to Bob that Dan would not be reappointed.
The next morning Dan White went to his regular morning coffee meeting on Eddy near Van Ness. He talked to his two cop friends. One was, Paul Chignell, the leader of the Police Officers Association, the union. Dan had his service revolver with him but may not have mentioned it to the others. They talked about how much they hated the police chief, Charlie Gain, and his support for gays.
I knew about this regular morning coffee of Dan White and his two police buddies from Margo St. James. Margo was a close friend of mine who I helped to found Coyote, the prostitutes union. Margo knew many cops from her days as a hooker and from her continued connection to the dozens of San Francisco hookers. She got a report of the Dan White morning, of the City Hall murder, a few days after the event.
Dan first saw the mayor, in his office that day, who said he would not reappoint Dan. Dan killed him. Then walked down the hall and found Harvey Milk whom he killed too. He continued walking around the supervisor’s office area looking for another person on the Board he had planned to kill, Carol Ruth Silver. Carol heard the shots and hid under her desk. Dan didn’t find her.
He walked back to the coffee shop and asked his two buddies what to do. They told him to walk up the street to the Catholic Cathedral, St. Mary’s, and go to confession. Then to turn himself in. He did.
I wondered why Supervisor Silver had not used the pistol she conceal carried above her right front pocket. However, in high stress situations people often do not respond as expected.
I knew about Carol Ruth’s pistol because I dated her off and on over the year preceding this and the year after.
The issue of Dan White's trial was on everyone’s mind in San Francisco until the trial the following May. In December I ran into my uncle Dick Guggenheim on the street and we chatted for a few minutes. Dick was an advertising man in downtown and also a leader of the city's girl scouts. He knew many in the police department and hung out in those circles.
I asked him if he thought Dan White would get the death penalty. He said “definitely not". "He has Doug Schmidt as his attorney and Schmidt has already worked out a deal with Joe Freitas". (the District Attorney). I was stunned by the conversation and never forgot the exact words and cocky know-it-all-attitude of uncle Dick.
A few days after the trial of Dan White started in May, I was out for the evening with Carol Ruth Silver; we first stopping at a political chicken dinner at the Dolphin Club where she shook hands with everyone. Later we went to her home where I brought up the fact I had heard that no one testified against Dan White. The next day she went to the court and demanded to be allowed to testify against White.
Days later the jury verdict came in, manslaughter, and the judge prescribed a seven year sentence.
I was outraged. That evening, knowing there would be an uproar, I walked to City Hall after a meeting I had to go to. When I arrived the Civic Center was full. I knew from many events I had organized that the number of people there was over 20,000 and the crowd was very angry. Mostly men. The main streets at City Hall were blocked off with fire engines. On the East side of City Hall were a number of police cars with people jumping on them. The police and firemen stood at the edge of the crowd. There was nothing they could do. The crowd was so large and so angry no options for control existed. I saw people break the back window of a police car and a minute later the car was in flames. Two other police cars promptly went up in flames.
I walked through the crowd for an hour before going home. On the outskirts, people were breaking store windows and turning over trash cans and lighting them.
District Attorney Freitas was voted out of office the next year by an angry electorate.
That is the accurate story as I saw it up close and through reliable friends. Quite different from the official story.