30 years after the Moscone, Milk killings

November 21, 2008 8:43:36 PM PST
November 27th marks 30 years since the killings of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk at City Hall.

There is a place in San Francisco's Castro District where people observe the killings of George Moscone and Harvey Milk several times a day.

Nick Romero has given a quick tour so many times, that it's become second nature.

His gift shop is in the same space as the camera store that supervisor Harvey Milk owned in the 1970's, is the place where San Francisco's gay and lesbian liberation began.

"Harvey was really all about getting people to understand that gay and lesbians were just like anybody else," said Romero.

It's come to the point that we talk about Harvey Milk quite a lot on this anniversary, every year.

But Milk wasn't the only person who died that day. For Chris Moscone, it's about a father who never came home from work.

"It's a family tragedy. There is no way of getting around that," said Moscone.

And a guy named Frank Falzon, thinks about it a lot too. He's the homicide detective for whom 30 years later, the case remains painful and personal.

"Even to this day I could cry for the victims. And when I say victims, I am including the suspect," said Falzon.

Dan White had been a friend with whom Falzon played softball, and Mayor George Moscone had helped him earn his promotion.

White was a child of San Francisco's conservative, Irish Catholic core, who quit his job in the fire department as a requirement of joining the Board of Supervisors.

White and his wife owned a fast food business on Pier 39, but when they couldn't make ends meet, he felt obliged to resign his board seat.

"Well I have my priorities and when I see my family start to suffer," said Dan White in a television interview in the 1970's.

But a few days, later, White changed his mind. He decided he wanted his seat back, and somehow he got the impression that Mayor George Moscone, a liberal, would reinstate him. Well that's not what he heard when he went to the Mayor's Office. Politics are politics.

"And George Moscone tells him, 'Dan I am not giving you the job, I'm giving the job to someone else,'" said Falzon.

White put five bullets into George Moscone, including two to the head. He reloaded and walked down the hall to Supervisor Milk's office.

"He felt San Francisco was turning into a cesspool, and those were his words. And he directed a lot of that anger, once he was betrayed towards Harvey Milk and Geoge Moscone," said Falzon.

"Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein on November 27, 1978.

Just a few days after hundreds of San Franciscans died in the Jonestown massacre, San Francisco became chaos once again.

Milk became both a martyr and a saint, almost overnight.

"I think what happened is that nationally the story of Harvey Milk became important for a movement," said USF historian Peter Novak.

As for the Moscone family, they followed a less political and more understated road.

"My father was a great man. He worked hard and gave his life for what he did. for the people," said Moscone. "I mean, I'm selfish. I don't have a dad, a grandfather for my children. I don't have someone I can talk to and ask questions, simple ones."

When White went to trial, a jury sentenced him, not to first degree murder, but manslaughter. San Francisco's gay community took their anger into the streets.

By 1984, White had become a free man again. Out of curiosity, one day, Falzon sought out his former friend, just to talk it out.

"He said, 'You know, Frank. I really lost it that day, didn't I?' I said, 'Dan, you really did.' 'And he said, you know, I wanted to get Carol Ruth Silver, and I wanted to get Willie Brown, too," said Falzon.

Two years after his parole, White committed suicide. The first detective to arrive for that final chapter was Falzon, the man who had seen so much.

"Looking back, I personally wish I was not on call. I will live with these feelings the rest of my life," said Falzon.

All this was the ongoing aftermath of a tragic day that has changed so many lives.

"Harvey Milk made it possible for me to be an out gay business owner. He made it possible to have a partner and a husband," said Romero.

In 1978, Nick Romero was 5-years-old and Chris Moscone 16.

For the lessons we have learned from that day, he feels obliged to note the ones we haven't.

"Violence isn't over, murder isn't over, hatred, things like that. I mean we don't learn," said Moscone.


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