Civil Rights History: On This Day, Harvey Milk’s Killer Avoids Murder Charge Using “Twinkie Defense”

For the lesbian and gay communities, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, today marks a day in civil rights history which sparked great protests known as the “White Night Riots.” On May 21, 1979, former San Francisco City Supervisor Dan White was convicted of manslaughter for the premeditated murders of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

In 1977, Harvey Milk, a prominent, gay businessman in the Castro District of San Francisco, won election to the city’s Board of Supervisors.  Milk’s election was the first time an openly-gay candidate won an office in the State of California.  Milk is pictured below in a photo taken in 1978 and courtesy of Wikipedia.

Alongside Milk served Dan White.  White was a conservative veteran and former fireman.  The relationship between the two officials was, at best, stormy.  The relationship began to sour further when White voted against a gay-rights ordinance sponsored by Milk.  The gay-rights ordinance did pass, however, despite White’s vote.

In November 1978, White resigned from the S.F. Board of Supervisors, claiming that he could not support his family on his salary.  George Moscone, the Mayor of San Francisco at the time, told White that he would reappoint him to the Board if White chose to come back.  Mayor Moscone is pictured below courtesy of Google Images.

Shortly after resigning, White did change his mind.  However, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Moscone did not reappoint White.  One argument that is proposed is that Moscone was under pressure from Milk not to reappoint White because of White’s no vote on Milk’s gay-rights ordinance.

On November 27, 1978, the day after Moscone’s refusal to reappoint him, White armed himself with a loaded pistol and went to City Hall.  He gained access to the building by entering a window in order to avoid a weapons check.  White then walked into Moscone’s office and shot the Mayor four times.  He then walked down the hall to Milk’s office, shooting Milk five times.  One gun shot was point-blank to the head and is depicted graphically in the 2008 movie, “Milk,” starring Sean Penn.

At White’s subsequent criminal trial, the defense argued that White had diminished capacity and, thus, could not have premeditated the killings.  The evidence offered for White’s depression was that he had been eating excessive amounts of junk food.  Seizing on this evidence, the media dubbed White’s defense, the “Twinkie defense.”  As a result of this defense, White escaped a murder conviction and was, instead, convicted of manslaughter.  He was sentenced to a mere five years, serving only two of them before returning to San Francisco and committing suicide.  White has been referred to as the “most hated man in San Francisco history.”

In 1982, under Proposition 8, and as a result of the negative publicity surrounding White’s case and others, the “diminished capacity” defense was abolished in the State of California.

Wikipedia has excellent articles about Harvey Milk, George Moscone, Dan White, and the “Twinkie defense.” If you are interested in this topic, I encourage you to check out those articles as a next step.  If you have not yet seen the movie “Milk,” then I most strongly encourage you to see it.  Sean Penn‘s portrayal of Harvey Milk, as well as Josh Brolin’s portrayal of the troubled Dan White, is a must see.  A word of warning, however – I personally found the end scene, the assassination of Milk quite haunting even though, from a graphics viewpoint, the scene is definitely not your typical Hollywood scene.  It is, in some ways, all the more powerful and disturbing because of that fact.

R.I.P. Harvey (May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978).  We have not forgotten, and never will.

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Civil Rights History: On This Day

Starting this month, I will be writing a feature article entitled, “Civil Rights History:  On This Day.”  These articles will explore important civil rights events from the past, but which continue to inform and influence civil rights discussions to the present day.

To start off the feature, we look back to April 4, 1968.  On this day in history, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed at a Memphis, TN hotel. King had traveled to Memphis to participate in protests involving the rights of Black sanitation workers. Following his “I Have A Dream Speech,” which occurred in 1963, King’s civil rights work increasingly focused on class and poverty issues, rather than strictly on race.

Petty crook James Earl Ray initially pleaded guilty to King’s slaying, but then later recanted.  Ray claimed that he had been set up.  Nevertheless, despite his recant, Ray’s conviction was upheld numerous times, and he died in prison.

Following King’s assassination, widespread violence broke out across the U.S., engulfing nearly 100 cities.  Members of the King family, as well as many others, maintain the belief that King was the victim of a government assassination plot.  Whether government plots against King included assassination is unclear.  However, what is clear is that the FBI waged a fierce campaign against King and his civil rights activities, branding King a communist and attacking his family relationships.  An excellent discussion of these efforts by the FBI can be found at

Today, as he did when he delivered the “I Have A Dream” speech, King typifies the noble goal of racial equality in the United States.  Is it a goal still unmet?  How would King assess the state of race relations if he were alive today?  On the one hand, we are led by the first African-American President in our nation’s history, Barack Obama.  As a result, one might argue that the United States looks scarcely like the United States of the turbulent 1960s era.  Yet, income and educational disparities between the races – particularly African-American and whites – remain a significant problem.  And, as we have seen in recent months, growing political divisiveness in our country, which I frankly believe is unmatched by anything since the 1960s civil rights movement.

What do you think King would have to say?

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Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream Speech’

There is so much to listen to, say, and write about the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that it would be foolhardy of me to think that I can encapsulate all – or even most – of the accomplishments of this great man on a blog post.  Throughout the day, I will be posting my thoughts about Dr. King here at CRW, and will also be tweeting information of interest about Dr. King and his legacy on my Twitter stream @ericgyoung.

Let me being by saying that I believe it is providential that we should be celebrating Dr. King’s legacy today.  Why?  Each of us who heard the false, ridiculous, and mean-spirited statements recently made by the Reverend Pat Robertson about the Haitian earthquake witnessed first-hand the living embodiment of hatred and deception.  Such qualities are anathema to civil rights progress, whether the issue be racial, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.

Unlike Rev. Robertson, Rev. Dr. King led his community to face seemingly insurmountable civil rights obstacles with a conviction to peaceful, yet persistent, non-violent protest.  While unpopular with some as not going far enough to combat racism and discrimination, Dr. King’s approach recognized that all human being have inherent worth and are deserving of equality.  Rev. Dr. King’s approach did not employ belittlement, revisionist history, hatred, or terrorism.  Rev. Dr. King’s approach was as strong as steel; Rev. Pat Robertson’s weak as water.

Rev. Dr. King’s philosophy – and, possibly, foresight – on the African-Americans’ civil rights struggles is epitomized in his ‘I Have A Dream Speech.’  You can link to the full text of the speech here.  For many of you, the speech will seem like ‘old hat.’  Even if you consider yourself familiar with the speech, I urge you to read the speech again, read it to your children, read it in your schools or with your neighbors.

R.I.P. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

Lawyer, Anti-Duvalier Activist & Politician Georges Anglades Killed By Haiti Quake

MSNBC‘s “Breaking News” on Twitter, @breakingnews, is reporting that lawyer, civil rights activist, and politician, Georges Anglades, was killed in the Haiti quake.  Anglades and his wife are pictured here.

Anglades was born in Port-au-Prince in 1944, educated in Haiti as a lawyer, and received a Ph.D. in Vienna.  Anglades came to national attention as an outspoken critic of the Duvalier regime in Haiti.  From 1957 to 1971, Haiti was ruled by the autocrat, Dr. Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, whom it is estimated ordered the deaths of 30,000 Haitians and exile of thousands more.  You can link to a Wikipedia article about Papa Doc Duvalier here.

Papa Doc Duvalier’s reign was followed by his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.  Although he attempted to soften some of the harsher aspects of his father’s regime, “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s reign was marked by corruption and the continued oppression of any political resistance.  “Baby Doc” Duvalier ruled Haiti from 1971 until he was overthrown by popular uprising in 1986.  You can link to a Wikipedia article about “Baby Doc” Duvalier here.

It was through this popular uprising that Anglades became part of the Haitian political landscape.  He was made a political prisoner by “Baby Doc” Duvalier in 1974.  Later, Anglades served as a Haitian cabinet minister and advisor to President Rene Preval.

Anglades and his wife were both killed in the quake.  In addition to the MSNBC BreakingNews report, you can link to an article about the couple’s death from Canadian news outlet,, here.

As of approximately 3 hours ago, reports from Haiti are estimating that the death toll will reach 100,000.  You can link to an article discussing the estimated death toll here.  Describing the earthquake as an “unimaginable disaster,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured that the Haitian death toll will reach tens of thousands.  You can link to an article quoting Sec’y Clinton here.

The damage done to the Haitian Presidential Palace is pictured below.

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