Dan White PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 18 May 2009 13:48

http://www.hilaryshepherd.com/rantsnraves/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/dan-white.jpg Daniel James "Dan" White

Born: September 2, 1946 San Francisco, California

Died: October 21, 1985 San Francisco, California

Age: 39

Cause of death: Suicide by Carbon Monoxide poisoning

Notable Because: Catholic ex policeman who shot Harvey Milk and served just 5 years following confused Court case. Became so hated that he killed himself.

 Dan White was a San Francisco supervisor who assassinated San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, on November 27, 1978, at City Hall. In a controversial verdict that led to the coining of the legal slang "Twinkie Defense," White was convicted of the manslaughter rather than the murder of Milk and Moscone. Soon after serving a sentence of five years, White returned to San Francisco and committed suicide two years later. San Francisco Weekly has referred to White as "perhaps the most hated man in San Francisco's history.

Daniel James White was born in San Francisco, the second of 10 children. He was raised by working-class parents in a Roman Catholic household. He attended Riordan High School. He was valedictorian of his class. He enlisted in the Army in 1965 and served in the Vietnam War before being discharged in 1972 and returning to San Francisco to work as a police officer. He quit the force after stopping another cop from beating a handcuffed black prisoner.

He then worked as a firefighter. A rescue of a woman and her baby from a seventh-floor apartment in the Geneva Towers by White was covered by The San Francisco Chronicle. Due to his background, city newspapers referred to him as "an all-American boy".

In 1977, White was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as a Democrat from District 8, which included several neighborhoods near the southeastern limits of San Francisco. At this time, supervisors were elected by district and not "at-large," as they had been before and would be again in the 1980s and '90s. He had strong support from the police and firefighter's unions. His district was described by The New York Times as "a largely white, middle-class section that is hostile to the growing homosexual community of San Francisco. [...] As a supervisor, Mr. White made it clear that he saw himself as the board's defender of the home, the family and religious life against homosexuals, pot smokers and cynics."


Despite their personal differences, White and Harvey Milk initially had several areas of political agreement and they reportedly worked well together. Milk was one of three supervisors invited to the baptism of White's new baby. As well, White persuaded Dianne Feinstein to appoint Milk chairman of the Streets and Transportation Committee.

The Catholic Church proposed a facility for juvenile offenders who had committed murder, arson, rape, and other crimes in White's district in April 1978. White was strongly opposed, telling a local Catholic priest in response that "I'll fuck you". Milk supported the Church, and this difference led to a painful falling out between the two.

White held a mixed record on gay rights issues, both opposing the Briggs Initiative and voting against an Ordinance prohibiting anti-gay housing and employment discrimination.

Harvey Milk (left) with White (second from right) at a fund-raiser aboard the Balclutha in Aquatic Park, California. White would murder Milk a few months later.

White was initially on civil terms with Milk and supported some of his political initiatives. After the two had a falling out over a land zoning matter, however, White frequently clashed with Milk and other members of the board. On November 10, 1978, White resigned his seat as supervisor. As reasons, he cited his dissatisfaction with the corrupt inner-workings of San Francisco city politics, as well as the difficulty in making a living without a police officer's or firefighter's salary, neither of which jobs he could legally hold while serving as supervisor. He had opened a potato restaurant at Pier 39, which had failed to become profitable. On November 14, however, he reversed his position after his supporters lobbied him to withdraw his resignation and seek reappointment from San Francisco mayor George Moscone.

Moscone initially agreed to White's request, but later refused the reappointment at the urging of Milk and others. On November 27, 1978, White went to San Francisco City Hall to meet with Moscone and make a final plea to get his job back. He arrived that day carrying a loaded gun, with 10 extra rounds of ammunition, and sneaked into the building through a window, thereby circumventing the metal detectors of the recently installed security system. Upon entering Moscone's office, White pleaded to be reinstated as a supervisor, but Moscone turned down his request. White then shot and killed Moscone. He reloaded his weapon and walked over to Milk's office and shot him five times, killing him; he fired the final shot at very close range. He then fled City Hall and turned himself in at the Northern Police Station where he had been an officer. White recorded a tearful confession, stating, "I just shot him."


At his trial, White's defense argued that his mental state at the time of the killings was one of diminished capacity due to depression; therefore, they argued, he was not capable of premeditating his act of violence, and thus was not legally guilty of first-degree murder. Forensic psychiatrist Martin Blinder testified that White was suffering from depression and pointed to several behavioral symptoms of that depression, including the fact that White had gone from being highly health-conscious to consuming sugary foods and drinks. When the prosecution played a recording of White's confession, several jurors wept as they listened to what was described as "a man pushed beyond his endurance." Many people familiar with city hall claimed that it was common to enter through the window to save time. A police officer, and friend of White's, claimed to reporters that several officials carried weapons at this time and speculated that White carried the extra ammunition as a habit that police officers abide to. The jury found White guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than first degree murder. Outrage within San Francisco's gay community over the resulting seven-year sentence sparked the city's White Night Riots; general disdain for the outcome of the court case led to the elimination of California's "diminished capacity" law.

White's headstone.

White served five years of his seven-year sentence at Soledad State Prison and was paroled on January 6, 1984. Fearing White might be murdered in retaliation for his crimes, California State Corrections Officials secretly transported him to Los Angeles, where he served a year's parole. White's release prompted another round of demonstrations; protesters publicly ate Twinkies, implying that they themselves might not be responsible for any violence they engaged in. After satisfying the terms of his parole, White indicated he wanted to return to his lifelong home of San Francisco; this prompted Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who feared for his safety, to issue a public statement formally asking White not to return. Nevertheless, White did move back to San Francisco and attempted to restore his life with his wife and children. His marriage soon disintegrated.

On October 21, 1985, less than two years after his release from prison, White committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage by running a garden hose from the exhaust pipe to the inside of his car. White had been listening to a recording of Paddy Reilly's rendition of "The Town I Loved So Well" on the car's cassette player. White's body was discovered by his brother, Thomas, shortly before 2 p.m. the same day.

White was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California, with a traditional Government-furnished headstone issued to war veterans. He was survived by his two sons (seven and four years old), and an infant daughter.

http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/dan-white.jpgIn 1998, Frank Falzon, the homicide inspector with the San Francisco police to whom White had turned himself in after the killings, said that he met White in 1984, and that at this meeting White had confessed that he had the intention to kill not only Moscone and Milk, but another supervisor, Carol Ruth Silver, and then-member of the California State Assembly (and future San Francisco Mayor) Willie Lewis Brown, Jr. as well. Falzon quoted White as having said, "I was on a mission. I wanted four of them. Carol Ruth Silver, she was the biggest snake ... and Willie Brown, he was masterminding the whole thing." Falzon indicated that he believed White, stating, "I felt like I had been hit by a sledge-hammer ... I found out it was a premeditated murder."

  • The story of the assassinations is told in the Academy Award-winning documentary film The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), which came out about a year before White committed suicide.
  • The assassinations and their aftermath are chronicled in a reworking of "I Fought the Law" written from White's perspective by the punk band the Dead Kennedys, released on the compilation album Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death (1987).
  • Former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra announced his intent to erect statues of Dan White all over San Francisco during his run for mayor of San Francisco, so that people could throw eggs at them to "relieve tension".
  • Execution of Justice, a play by Emily Mann, chronicles the events leading to the assassinations. In 1999, the play was adapted to film for Showtime, with Tim Daly portraying White.
  • The song Special Treatment for the Family Man by San Francisco band Tuxedomoon is a comment on the trial and verdict.
  • The assassinations were the basis for a scene in the 1987 movie RoboCop, in which a junk food eating former municipal official uses an Uzi to take hostages at city hall because he wants his "...old job back!"
  • Actor Josh Brolin earned an Academy Award nomination for playing Dan White in Gus Van Sant's 2008 biopic Milk which opened with wide release from Focus Features. The film suggests that Milk believed White may have been a closeted gay man. However, there is no evidence to suggest that Dan White was homosexual.
  • Court psychiatrist Martin Blinder M.D. devoted a chapter of his 1985 book Lovers, Killers, Husbands and Wives to the Dan White case, including interviews. The book was written prior to White's release and suicide.
  • San Francisco punk music band The Cosmetics recorded the song "twinkie madness" about the Dan White case, and his "twinkie defense" in 1980


Last Updated on Thursday, 19 November 2009 11:37

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