Friday, May 22, 2009

May 21st. 1979: White Night Riots

Some argue if Dan White had just killed Mayor Moscone he would have received a life sentence but since he killed Harvey Milk too, a known and out homosexual and liberal, it seemed to complicate things. The end result was a lenient sentencing. A few years. Less than a decade for killing two innocent people.

This is where the famous and famously absurd Twinkie Defense was born and out of that the angry White Night Riots ignited.

On May 21, 1979, Dan White was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter after his assassination of both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk on November 27, 1978. The prosecutor asked for a finding of first-degree murder with "special circumstances", which would have permitted the death penalty under the terms of a recently-adopted capital punishment law in California, Proposition 7. The "special circumstances" in this case were that Mayor Moscone had been killed in order to block the appointment of someone to fill the City Supervisor seat from which Dan White had resigned, and also that multiple people were killed.

White's sentence was reduced due in part to the so-called Twinkie defense, a verdict that provoked outrage in the community. The so-called “Twinkie” defense was presented by a psychiatrist to the jury, essentially saying that too much refined sugar (the type of sugar found in “junk food”) can cause depression and that White may have acted irrationally as a subsequent result of his eating copious amounts of foods containing refined sugars. The composition of the jury was also considered a factor; composed of mostly working class, predominantly Roman Catholic, heterosexual, and white men and women, just like Dan White. This was the segment of the city who felt sympathy for White. The jury heard a tape recording of White’s confession, which consisted of highly emotional ranting about the pressure he was under, and members of the jury wept in sympathy for the defendant.

Keep fighting.

Fuel gay rage now.


Dave in Oz said...

The other night I watched the documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk", made in 1984. Very interesting, and it covered this issue. Dan White served five and a half years in prison, and 18 months after his release, he killed himself.

Fortunately California changed its law covering this type of defense after the trial, but what a price to pay.

Thanks for the clip - they were interesting times.

SubtleKnife said...

I think I have to agree with those people who believe White would've received a harsher sentence if he had killed George Moscone but not Harvey Milk.

Milk would have been 79 today. That's not unreasonable, he could have still been with us. Sometimes I feel a bit hesitant as an outsider to make this sort of comment, but I say "with us" because I too feel robbed.

By the way, there's a little typo in the Mayor's name in the first sentence, Mr. Leven.

Anonymous said...

I remember, at age 16, learning about the White Night Riots by watching the evening news (Southern California boy here).

Though born of the worst, the images gave me so much hope when I was young. It showed me that all of the stereotypes propagated about the person I was to become and the community I was to be joining were bullshit. Gays can blow up cop cars and burn down the city. We were and are not benign.

ewe said...

thats what i call a protest.