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New evidence casts doubt on prosecution theory in Steinle killing

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate

A motion filed today by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office sheds some new light on the events that led to the tragic killing of Kate Steinle and undercuts the police and prosecution argument that Jose Ines Garcia Zarate intended to shoot Steinle.

The gun that fired the fatal round was stolen from a federal agent’s car four days before the fatal shooting — and new evidence shows that the burglar who took that weapon also broke into a second car nearby.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate is not connected to the two car break-ins where a stolen gun was present

In fact, a magazine for the Sig-Sauer pistol was found near the second car, along with the federal agent’s backpack and credit cards.

But the SF Police Department has not released to the Public Defender the name of the person who rented the second car, who is identified only as Jane Doe, or any information about what happened to three computers, credit cards, and four passports that were stolen from that vehicle.

The existence of the second, clearly connected car break-in ads a key element to the narrative around the shooting.

Garcia Zarate — who in earlier filings was identified as Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez — has not been charged with either burglary, his prints were not at either scene, and there is no indication that he used or tried to sell any of the valuable items taken from those cars. 

The defense argues that Garcia Zarate stumbled onto the gun, which has a hair trigger, wrapped in some type of cloth on a bench, and that it went off accidentally. 

However, he is charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon, assault with a deadly weapon, and murder.

According to the narrative presented in the filing, an agent from the Bureau of Land Management left the loaded pistol unsecured in his car parked along the Embarcadero. Sometime in the evening of June 27, 2015, the gun, along with a a duffle bag, a backpack, three BLM uniforms, and the agents credentials and credit cards, were stolen. The agent reported the burglary at 11:14pm.

(Why a federal agent would leave his credentials, credit cards, and a gun in a car in San Francisco, where break-ins are common, remains a mystery that will presumably be answered when the agent takes the stand in the trial.)

Shortly afterward, that same evening, another car parked on the Embarcadero was broken into. That car was rented by someone who appears to have been a tourist, and who reported to the police at 11:34 that her car window was broken and that two laptops, an iPad, passports, and credit cards were missing.

The police found a magazine that fit the BLM agent’s gun, along with his credit cards, near the second car. 

It’s hard at this point to figure out the entire history of the stolen gun and how it wound up on Pier 14. But the filing suggests the thief discarded the second magazine — which, along with the gun, was worth a fair amount of money on the street — suggesting that “whoever stole the gun had no specific interest in it and did not plan on keeping it.” Maybe it was brandished in a robbery and then ditched; maybe the thief decided it was too dangerous to carry around and ditched it. 

Either way, the idea that someone other than Garcia Zarate left the gun on or around a bench on the pier is critical to the defense.

“Someone other than [Garcia Zarate] and other than the BLM agent had possession of the gun at a minimum at two locations over the four days it was missing,” Matt Gonzalez, chief trial attorney in the Public Defender’s Office, argues in the filing.

“Any jury selected for this case would have reason to doubt that a person charged with murder simply found a discarded gun on a public pier. Here, evidence that the gun was stolen days earlier, by a person who stole other items of value, none of which were found in Garcia Zarate’s possession, is important for the defense,” the filing notes.

Gonzalez and Francisco Ugarte, the two lawyers handling the Garcia Zarate defense, are asking Judge Samuel Feng to order the police to release full details of the second burglary, including the name of the victim. Without that, they argue, it’s impossible to conduct a full investigation in to the trail of the pistol.

And, the lawyers argue, “although the district attorney has been aware that these two break-ins were part of the same burglary event, Jane Doe’s police report was never discovered to the defense.”

Today’s filing starts to flesh out what the evidence is going to show in the trial. The DA is going to try to prevent the jury from hearing anything about the fact that a federal agent foolishly left a loaded gun in a car, about the fact that somebody stole and apparently later discarded that gun, and that Garcia Zarate discharged it by mistake.

The defense is going to try to point out that there were a string of events that led to the killing, and that Garcia Zarate only appeared at the very end and never intended to hurt anyone.

The outcome will depend in part on how much information Judge Feng will allow the jury to see. The lawyers will be back in court Sept. 5.

Dolores Huerta, filling the screen

Coachella, CA: 1969. United Farm Workers Coachella March, Spring 1969. UFW leader, Dolores Huerta, organizing marchers on 2nd day of March Coachella. Photo: 1976 George Ballis/Take Stock / The Image Works

In 1962, political organizer Dolores Huerta was a twice-divorced mother of seven. She had also just told Cesar Chávez that she would join him in an endeavor that at the time defied common sense, if not historical precedent: starting a union for California farmworkers. 

The stakes were high, but the tireless Huerta proved to be a phenomenon. She ensured that the United Farmworkers Union held space for women in important roles (unlike most of the labor movement at the time) and utilized innovative organizing techniques that eventually secured the country’s first union contracts for agricultural workers. Her largely Chicano group of low income workers marched the highways of California to the State Capitol, and launched a national grape boycott that succeeded in toppling growers’ violent incredulity that their employees could organize. Huerta was arrested 22 times for the cause and in 1988 a police officer’s baton ruptured the grandmother’s spleen at a Union Square protest of a George Bush Sr. fundraising dinner.

Undaunted and steeled, Huerta has added her voice to the feminism movement, to the struggle for LGBTQ rights, to early environmentalism campaigns in her fight against the use of pesticides in growing our food. She eventually created the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which focuses on getting Chicanos elected to public office through grassroots organizing. 

But then in 2006, she got too real during a talk with Arizona schoolkids. A heartfelt “Republicans hate Latinos” from Huerta was all it took for politicians to launch the campaign that eventually banned Mexican Studies entirely from Tucson’s public schools. It was a not so subtle hint that social justice heroes can still be erased for future generations by the powers that be. (Happily HB2281 was ruled unconstitutional just last week, although it remains on the books for the time being.)

Even Barack Obama forgot who coined “sí se puede” when he appropriated a translation of Huerta’s phrase for his 2008 campaign (he thought it was Chávez’s term, indicative of a greater issue with people attributing Huerta’s work to her vaunted male counterpart), but he apologized upon awarding Huerta the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “Dolores does not play,” he said on the occasion.

Now a new documentary, Dolores, made by Carlos Santana and Peter Bratt about the life of Huerta, could not come at a better time. Say what you will about her endorsement of Hillary in the election, Huerta is the reason history books exist. 

A few days after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville where a participant killed protestor Heather Heyer, 48 Hills had the opportunity to speak with Huerta and Dolores director Peter Bratt, brother of Benjamin Bratt, the SF native and actor-director who created La Misión. They talked about the power of memory, and the unique opportunities available to a country mired in the early days of an unjust administration.

48 HILLS Peter, my first question is for you. Why did you think the world needed a documentary about Dolores in this moment?

PETER BRATT When Carlos approached me about making the film four and a half years ago we had no idea that Donald Trump would be elected to the highest office in the country. We certainly had no idea that we’d see what has transpired over the last few days in this country. Seeing what’s going on gives the film a whole different kind of urgency and relevance that I don’t think we foresaw when we set out to make it.

48 HILLS Dolores, the pressures on your family situation are dealt with in the film very openly. Why did you think it was important to be so up front in this documentary about the challenges that your dedication to organizing posed to your children?

DOLORES HUERTA I think that was more Peter’s idea. My youngest daughter Camila, is the executive director of my foundation. In the film she has these big tears about her mother being gone, but when she went to Mills College, on her first day she calls me from the dorm phone and she goes “Mom, you won’t believe this, but there are girls here who are crying for their mothers.” (laughs) It was painful for me to see [them tell painful stories in the film], but the thing is that my kids came out very resourceful, they came out strong. But the one thing I did want to say to all the mothers out there; bring your children to demonstrations. Bring them to the picket line. You didn’t have to tell my children about the movement, because they lived it.

Director Peter Bratt of Dolores. Photo courtesy Tim Tidball.

PETER BRATT When Carlos [Santana, the film’s producer] and I talked about from early on is that oftentimes when historical biographies are done on great leaders, they become inaccessible to their audience. The audience cannot see him- or herself in that leader’s struggle. We wanted to humanize Dolores and make her real, make her down to earth. One of the things we’ve seen subsequently, particularly with Latin women, is that they can relate to her, they can see themselves in her own struggle. Especially today when you have both fathers and mothers working two jobs — sometimes three jobs in Latino communities — feeling torn about leaving your children in child care. My wife and I, we struggle with that ourselves.

48 HILLS Dolores, your father and son have held or are currently running for political office. Did you ever think about running for public office?

DOLORES HUERTA No, I really don’t. I believe that I’m an organizer at heart, this is what I love to do and I would rather organize to get good people in and take out the bad guys. (Laughs.) I try to get progressive candidates elected, it’s what we do with our foundation. We do a lot of voter registration, getting out the vote. In place where we have been organizing, people will vote 15 percent higher than the rest of the county. We have organized in very conservative counties, and tried to get people to run for office. We have some of our residents that we’ve organized are on school boards, water boards, city councils, recreation boards. These are farmworkers — women, men, just ordinary people, they don’t have a college degree, but they get on those boards and they can make a lot of difference.

48 HILLS How has the election of Trump changed the work that your foundation does?

DOLORES HUERTA I think it adds a lot more urgency. Of course, we do a lot with the deportations, the people who are being deported, families that have been separated in the farmworker community. At the same time the growers are making plans to bring in what they call H-2A farmworkers, also from Mexico! They’re deporting people and at the same time planned to bring in more people on a farmworker contract. It’s a step above slavery. These workers cannot join a union, they cannot get unemployment insurance, they can’t get residency in the United States, they can’t social security. It’s a step above slavery, and unfortunately that’s exactly what the Trump administration is planning to do.

PETER BRATT Huge step backwards.

DOLORES HUERTA Senator Feinstein has a bill in the Congress for what they call a blue visa, so that the farmworkers who are undocumented can stay here and work. With what they call a blue visa, they wouldn’t have to be separated from their families like they are with deportation.

48 HILLS One of the points the film touches on is the importance of self-love. Recent weeks have brought some particularly frightening headlines to the United States. Dolores, do you have tips for people on how to persevere and maintain that self love in the United States of America of 2017?

Dolores Huerta makes the UFW strategy clear in the union’s early days.

DOLORES HUERTA The only way we can end racism in our country, and misogyny, homophobia, is to start teaching children, even in kindergarten, about the contributions of people of color. Native Americans were the first slaves in the United States, and African people built the White House and Congress. People from Mexico and Asia were the ones who built the infrastructure of this country, and that is not taught. We wouldn’t have an eight hour day, we wouldn’t have social security, worker’s compensation, all these things that we take for granted — safety standards — that we wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the labor unions. [Education is] something that is incumbent on us now, especially when we see the demonstrations in Virginia. I think that this is one way that we can take a big step towards eradicating all of these isms in our society that are destroying our country.

48 HILLS Speaking of the labor movement, can you talk about where you see important or exciting organizing happening in the labor movement these days?

DOLORES HUERTA I think the whole campaign to raise the minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour is an important campaign, and that is being financed primarily by labor. We know that much of the organization in labor is in the public health area and the service industry because of the loss of manufacturing jobs — and lot of the union’s strength in manufacturing jobs has gone down. The teacher’s union has a challenge with charter schools, because many of them do not support the teachers having their own organization. That is a big threat, because if we don’t have public education, that is a threat to our democracy. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that education is the soul of our country, so when we see that it is being privatized, that is a big threat to our democracy.

48 HILLS Do you see any potential for positives during the Trump era? Are there any points of strength that people can take out of this drastically horrible period in our nation’s history?

DOLORES HUERTA Very definitely. I lived through the 1960s, when we had Nixon and Reagan and all these other people and we survived the ‘60s and we came out stronger. I think that this is going to happen even more. You think about what happened in Charlottesville, the next day you had all these massive demonstrations against the Neo Nazis and the alt right. This really shows that the power is in the people and the people can change it. But we’ve got to bring that to voting, to running for office, for progressives to take over the legislature, like my son who is running for Congress. He’s a civil rights attorney, public interests attorney — we’ve got to get our people who are concerned about justice, we’ve got to get them elected to all the policy-making boards.

Dolores Huerta in a 1975 press conference. Photo courtesy Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs Wayne State University

48 HILLS What qualities make an effective organizer? This question can be for both of you.

PETER BRATT In making this film I’ve learned that issues crosspollinate and are linked together. I think that activism today has to reflect that. The buzzword these days is intersectionality and I think that Dolores for me is someone who lives at that intersection, and the film makes that apparent.

DOLORES HUERTA One thing is that you’ve got to reach out to other people to join you. You can’t do it by yourself, that’s the main thing that organizers have to learn. Don’t take it personal when people don’t want to join your movement, you’ve got to have that emotional fortitude to take that rejection and keep on going. Have it so deep in your heart that when people say no, you know that they just haven’t heard the message yet. Not to turn on them, or fight with them — come back to them later on. Just keep going and don’t quit.

Figure out how to deliver your message. Every person that you meet is a potential person that can join your movement. Don’t worry if you don’t start out with a thousand people, all it takes is a couple people to get started. When Cesar and I and his wife Helen started the United Farmworkers, there was just the three of us. Later on we were joined by his cousin and brother and little by little it grew until we had a house of people on our side, and then millions when we did the grape boycott.

You have to have a lot of faith in yourself, and faith in the people you’re trying to organize. Keep on going and don’t worry about making mistakes, because mistakes are natural. Learn from the things that can be improved and don’t be too hard on yourself. And learn how to celebrate! We need a lot of organizers now to go out and protest and to resist what Trump is doing.

Dolores opens Sept. 8 at Landmark Embarcadero, Landmark Shattuck, and the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center.

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95-year-old Holocaust survivor, stands up to Nazis — again

Ben Stein, 95, leads a march in Berkeley Sunday

Two forces have been constants in Ben Stern’s long life: his exposure to racial hatred and violence, and his certainty that he has a responsibility to be kind to others and to stand up to that hate. Those strands came together on Sunday, when a right-wing group planned a rally in Berkeley—and Stern, a Warsaw-born Holocaust survivor, led a peaceful counter-march.

Flanked by two rabbis and his daughter Charlene Stern, the 95-year-old led more than 100 supporters on a half-mile walk to the site of a larger rally in front of the UC Berkeley campus. Then he climbed, with a little help, onto the flatbed truck that served as a stage. He urged people to resist and “rise above hatred” — and to remember the 60 million people who lost their lives in World War II.

Ben Stern, 95, leads a march in Berkeley Sunday

Stern grew up in Warsaw and Mogelnice, a small town outside the Polish capital, one of eight brothers and one sister. His family moved to Mogielnice when Ben was six years old to take over a small business run by an uncle who left the country. 

His grandmother and mother ran the family business, a general store that sold alcohol and groceries, along with homemade seltzer and ice cream; his father, a deeply religious man, studied Torah.

One of his early memories of anti-Semitic hatred came on a Saturday morning when he was seven years old and walking alone to synagogue. He passed the store of a Polish butcher and the butcher’s daughter, a classmate at his school, rubbed a handful of ground pork into Ben’s face.

“I ran home crying,” he remembers. “I still carry that scene today.”

He also learned to resist. At the end of each day, when he and other kids left the Jewish school they attended in the afternoons, he and other boys would gather to protect each other and the girls against attacks from stone-throwing Polish children. “If they picked fights,” Ben recalls, “we were there to respond.”

On Thursday afternoons, he and other boys collected money from Jewish businesses so his grandmother and mother could buy food to cook meals for hungry families. Ben’s father taught him lessons from the Shulchan Aruch, a text of Jewish law, with precepts about the importance of tzedakah, or righteous charity. 

“I carried (those lessons) continuously in me,” Stern says, and he credits them for giving him the strength and mental toughness to survive. “The teaching of responsibility toward other people carried me through the concentration camps, encouraging me to hang in there, to live.” 

After Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Ben’s family was forced to move into a small shack in the part of Mogielnice where Jews were confined. Ben was 17 years old. In late 1940, they were moved again, this time to the Warsaw ghetto, where more than 350,000 Jews were imprisoned in desperately overcrowded tenements, surrounded by barbed wire.

His grandmother, both parents, and two brothers lived with him in one small room with no running water, toilet, heat or electricity. In a four-month period in 1942, he lost his grandmother, his older brother and, on the last day of Passover, his father. 

Stern took his father’s body to the cemetery and buried him but when he came back the next day to place a marker, found that his grave had been dug up. He described his feelings in a documentary film directed and produced by Charlene Stern. “I was embarrassed, angry, hurt to see my father naked in the grave,” he says. He used his hands as shovels to again cover his father’s body with dirt.


On August 15, 1942, Stern and his mother and surviving brother were ordered out of their room and placed in a line on the street. “I was pushed to the left and they were pushed to the right,” he says. “It was the last time I saw members of my family.”

He learned later that they had been sent to the Treblinka concentration and died there in the gas chambers. Ben was taken to Majdanek, another concentration camp. He remembers the four chimneys of the crematorium there, where the flames reached even higher than the smoke.

“You could go insane on the spot,” he says. “But I decided to go on, I didn’t give up.”

Stern spent almost a year in Majdanek, working in the kitchen, until he was sent to Auschwitz in July 1943. He was transported by train, along with survivors of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, which had just been crushed after a month of resistance. At Auschwitz, he was tattooed on his forearm with a number, 129592, along with a triangle classifying him as dangerous.  

At Auschwitz, he and other prisoners were forced to strip for inspection by Josef Mengele, the barbaric Nazi physician who experimented on Jewish prisoners. Mengele selected Stern by pointing at him with a stick, but when Stern stepped forward, he misreported his number. The next day, when the incorrect number was called out, no one responded. Somehow, Stern’s trick wasn’t discovered.

Other memories still haunt him – like the people who no longer wanted to live going at night to the electric fences to electrocute themselves. He remembers being forced to spread human ashes on the surface of roads he was repairing. When he found small pieces of bone, he would put them aside and bury them later, saying kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

In April 1945, as the Soviet Army was advancing into Poland, thousands of prisoners, including Stern, were herded out of Auschwitz on a death march into territory still held by the Reich. The first night, many froze to death as they lay in a snowy open field. Stern tore the blanket he’d been issued in half, wrapping the pieces around his feet to protect them. When the blanket soaked through, he walked barefoot. 

The marchers, he recalls, were like “half-skeletons walking.” People who couldn’t keep up were shot and left in the forest. On May 8, 1945 – the day of the German surrender — Nazi soldiers put the surviving prisoners into barracks and set dynamite around it, then fled into the forest. Somehow, the dynamite never went off. The American Army arrived two hours later, liberating the 156 prisoners who had survived the 33-day death march. Ben Stern was one of them. He was 24 years old and weighed 78 pounds.

Stern was kept in quarantine for the next 30 days and then began hunting for members of his family. He visited cities and displaced persons camps but found no one from his family. He did, however, meet Helen Kielmanowicz, another survivor, in the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp, and married her six weeks later. The couple traveled to the United States and settled in Skokie, Illinois in 1946.

Ben got a job in a furniture factory making 75 cents an hour and then, with the help of a cousin, bought a laundry business that he built into a chain of Laundromats, enabling the couple to raise three children and put them through college.

Postwar Skokie drew an enormous number of Holocaust survivors and Stern got involved with a survivors’ organization. When a neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Party of America, announced its intention in 1977 to organize a march through the streets of Skokie, the survivors’ community fought to block the march. Stern led the fight and even challenged his rabbi, who, in a sermon, advised the Skokie survivors to stay home and cover their windows when the Nazis marched.

“I jumped up and said, ‘rabbi, you are wrong,’” Stern recalls. “’We are not going to close the windows, we’re not going to stay home. We will meet them head on and we will not permit them to march.’”

The survivors challenged the Nazi’s request for a permit and a legal battled waged in the courts – with the ACLU supporting the Nazi’s right to free speech. Stern wrote letters to newspapers, organized a petition drive opposing the march and urged people to come to Skokie for a counter-demonstration. He received death threats and bought a gun for protection. Eventually, faced with the prospects of a huge counter-demonstration, the Nazis held a small march in Chicago and cancelled their plans for Skokie. Stern smashed his gun to pieces with a hammer. 

Nine years ago, Ben and Helen moved to Berkeley to be closer to their daughters and grandchildren. Ben now walks every day to visit his wife, who lives in a nearby eldercare community.

Stern sees parallels between the political climate of the U.S. today under Donald Trump and the rise of European fascism in the early 1930s, and it frightens him.

“The threat is there,” he says. “I’m very worried. I don’t want to bring out the worst but he seems to be offering dictatorship in this country.”

For Stern, leading the march on Sunday was a continuation of a pledge he made decades ago. 

“I’m filling the promise we made at Auschwitz and the other camps,” Stern told me. As people were led to the gas chambers, he said, “they turned around and said ‘Remember me, remember us.’ I have the obligation, on their behalf, to expose, to speak about the threat of Nazism.”

“Schools, religious institutions, community organizations, libraries and museums can  purchase “Near Normal Man,” Ben Stern’s personal story of survival through courage, kindness and hope here.


What did the white supremacists think was going to happen?

The march through the mission attracted many thousands

Rose Aguilar, the KALW radio show host, had the point right: On Facebook, she noted that “the white supremacists were tear gassed in Berkeley, and that’s going to be the news headline” — not the fact that 5,000 people peacefully marched against fascism and hate.

Peaceful protests in San Francisco

For the second day in a row, the Bay Area demonstrated that the hate-monger message wasn’t welcome. The outpouring of people power was impressive.

Of course, the the surprise of nobody who has been to East Bay demonstrations in the past five years, a few people jumped the fence around the park in Berkeley and went in to confront the far-right; the black bloc is going to do that sort of thing. There was some violence (but not as bad as we’ve seen in the past, thanks to Berkeley enforcing rules against guns, sticks, and knives). 

The news stations tonight all led with “violence in the streets of Berkeley,” because that’s what TV stations do. Most of the actual protesters were peaceful, but that’s not what makes headlines. 

I am not condoning violence against the alt-right (although they are espousing a violent ideology). But it was entirely predictable. 

That’s why it’s such a bad idea — and an open provocation — for these folks to come to Berkeley itching for a fight.

All I can say to Joey Gibson and his gang is: What did you expect? You come into a town that is known for tolerance and progressive values with a message of intolerance and you try to start a fight — and you’re likely to get one. 

Don’t go whining to the press about how the left won’t let you speak; you got plenty of press this weekend. The right-wingers weren’t there to exercise free speech; they were there to antagonize the rest of us, to try to create a violent scene so they can then blame the left.

The best way for them to avoid violence was not to show up in the first place. 

Get a clue — your hate isn’t welcome here. Don’t come back. We’ll all be better off.

SF sends the white supremacists packing

Crowds gather near Alamo Square

San Francisco sent the white supremacists packing today.

Joey Gibson cancelled his rally at Crissy Field, saying he was afraid of violence (after the police made it clear that they would not allow any weapons and would search everyone at the lone entrance to the park).

Then he said he would hold a press conference at Alamo Square at 2pm — but the cops closed and fenced that park off, and by 11:30, hundreds and hundreds of protesters were showing up.

Crowds gather near Alamo Square

The impromptu rally, called on Facebook and organized in part by Mission activist and City College professor Benjamin Bac Sierra, soon attracted a huge crowd, at least 5,000 by my count and possibly many more.

“This is amazing,” Bac Sierra told me as we watched the throngs of people go by. “This is historic.”

The crowd marched peacefully through the Mission, with music and chants. “We are celebrating victory,” Bac Sierra said. 

Benjamin Bac Sierra gets the crowd going

And indeed, it appeared that — with no violence or threats of violence — activists in San Francisco convinced the white supremacists that this was not a good place to hold a rally. Gibson tried to livestream a press conference, but hardly anyone watched it, and his colleague, Kyle Chapman, who has been charged with beating protesters with a lead-loaded cane, seemed to get the message.

According to the Mercury News, Chapman said that 

I think the best game plan moving forward is for us to take a break on rallies in liberal enclaves like Berkeley and San Francisco … and focus on rallies where we have a definite chance of a win.

A “No Marxism” rally is still planned for Berkeley tomorrow.

Several of the speakers at Alamo Square noted that city officials have tried to keep protesters from confronting the far right. In Boston, the mayor urged everyone to stay away from a white supremacist rally — but 40,000 showed up anyway, and forced the neo-Nazis to leave.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi talks about resisting white supremacy

In San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee tried to keep people away from Crissy Field, going so far as to cut off most Muni service to the area. Paul Rose, a Muni spokesperson, told me that 

Safety will always be our top priority and this transportation plan was developed to keep Muni riders and transit staff as safe as possible.

But I heard endless complaints from people who said they wanted to show up to challenge Gibson’s crew but were frustrated that they wouldn’t be able to get there.

At first, the official line was to keep people from Alamo Square, too: Cops fenced off the entire park and surrounded it, and at one point early on tried to declare the rally an unlawful assembly. 

But people kept showing up anyway, and eventually the police brass decided to back down. They closed off the surrounding streets, opened up the intersection of Hayes and Steiner, and allowed the throng to fill Hayes all the way down the hill to Fillmore. 

Around 12:30, Bac Sierra announced that the rally would move through the Mission to 24th St, and as I stood by the side of the road, marchers kept coming. More and more seemed to arrive by the minute. As soon as one wave seemed to be thinning out, another would arrive. 

The march through the mission attracted many thousands

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many people in a march that was organized in just a few hours.

By 2pm, we were hearing that Gibson had moved his show to Pacifica. 

The mayor held an official anti-hate rally at City Hall, which was fairly well attended, as was a rally organized by Cleve Jones and Juanita Moore in the Castro that drew several thousand. Jones is using the neo-Nazi rallies to raise money for local anti-fascist causes. So is the Jewish Bar Association of San Francisco, which even had an airplane flying overhead with a banner announcing that the “adopt a Nazi, not really” campaign has already raised $130,000.

Tomorrow, Berkeley.

UPDATE: Late in the day, Gibson and a few others showed up at Crissy Field. There was no rally. A few protesters challenged the alt-right, but Gibson never got the media or the confrontation that he apparently wanted.

MEANWHILE IN THE CASTRO (Update from Marke B): 

A very colorful crowd gathered at a peace rally and march led by drag queen Juanita More and Cleve Jones. Hundreds showed up with an array of humorous and poignant signs and t-shirts (and kites, and wagons….)

Melba Maldonado, Active Director of La Raza Community Resource Center. Photo by David Schnur
Alex U. Inn, community leader and head of Momma’s Boyz. Photo by David Schnur

Speakers included Melba Maldonado (“I wear a wool scarf today to remind myself of the heat that the victims of Joe Arpaio suffered”) and Alex U. Inn (“Women are losing more and more control of their bodies every day.”)  

Participants in the rally marched from the Castro to Civic Center. Photo by Ken Leaf.

After an hour of speakers and music, the rlly then marched to Civic Center for what turned into a vibrant dance party. 

Kites away! Photo by David Schnur


BREAKING: Patriot Prayer cancels rally tomorrow says will hold press conference ‘instead’

Joey Gibson, leader of the right-wing group Patriot Player, that had planned a Saturday rally at Crissy Field in San Francisco, said Friday that he had decided to cancel the event and hold a news conference instead.

Many feared that the rally would attract white supremacists and neo-nazis. City officials have been on edge fearing violence and according to emails about The Examiner’s Joe Fitz staff at San Francisco, General Hospital was instructed to prepare for mass casualties or injuries. 

On Facebook Live, Joey Gibson of Patriot Prayer said the news conference would be held at 2 p.m at Alamo Square in the Western Addition.Gibson said speakers that were scheduled to speak at Crissy Field will be speaking at the press conference tomorrow.

The press conference is also likely to attract protests — and it’s not clear if they need or will get a permit for a press event at a city park. However, Parks & Recreation does require permits for events larger than 50 people.

Weighing on the issue, President of the Board of Supervisors London Breed asked people not to be alarmed: “Crissy Field rally canceled by organizer. Now they plan to hold press conf (sic) in Alamo Sq. Please don’t be alarmed, we are working on it!” Breed said on Twitter.

Alamo Square is in a residential neighborhood. It’s also a huge tourist attraction.We have not yet heard from Mayor Ed Lee, but if the city wants the same safety precautions as the National Park Service imposed, Rec-Park and the police will have to scramble to block off the park, limit access, and set up checkpoints. 

We have not yet heard from Mayor Ed Lee, but if the city wants the same safety precautions as the National Park Service imposed, Rec-Park and the police will have to scramble to block off the park, limit access, and set up checkpoints. 

What happens if Lee’s office refuses to issue a permit for the event? What happens if Gibson and his supporters show up anyway — and so do a lot of protesters? 

UPDATE: San Francisco’s top officials are currently in a meeting to discuss the city’s response to the Patriot Prayer’s press conference scheduled for tomorrow. 

UPDATE: SF Rec Park says no permit has been issued. But Police Chief Bill Scott says the city will not try to stop the event. Meanwhile, security around Crissy Field will remain, and bus routes still closed. (Just in case this is a fake, and they still try to do the rally there)

 We will continue to update this post as more information becomes available.


‘Ignoring hate does not make it go away’

It now appears that the National Park Service will not block the white supremacist rally Saturday, and the event will go forward at Crissy Field at 2pm.

There will be counter protests all over town, starting Friday. There’s a map of all the events here. 



A labor group led by the ILWU will March Against Hate to Crissy Field, starting at Marina Green at 10am. Details here.

There’s a March for Equality at Harvey Milk Plaza at noon.

Cleve Jones, the longtime LGBT activist, has set up a site to raise money  for local groups that oppose white supremacy and are doing important work in the community; it’s modeled after a town in Germany that used Nazi rallies to raise money for groups devoted to the downfall of the Nazi cause.

You can find his page here. “When all the dust is cleared and this is over,” Jones told me, “I want to be able to say that the white supremacists came to San Francisco and raised a lot of money to oppose their agenda.”

Not everybody can or should go to Crissy Field to directly confront the soldiers of the far right wing.

But as Alicia Garza told us, multiple tactics are a good thing, and a coordinated response that takes place all over the city, with different types of events, is the best way for the city to make the white supremacists feel unwelcome and to counter their messages of hate.

The idea that violence is coming from these folks is not just a theory. Garza posted on Facebook today a set of threats she’s received on Twitter:

So this is very real. Please be careful out there. There are tips for attending the Crissy Field event here.

The National Park Service has vowed to fence off all access to Crissy Field except through the Marina Green entrance, where all visitors will be screened for weapons. Not sure how that will work; it’s a big area, and will be hard to control.

Every police officer in the city will be on duty, and a lot of them will be on overtime. This is going to be expensive, and while Mayor Ed Lee says he will send the bill to the federal government, that’s not exactly how these things work.

Garza was on Your Call this morning, and she and Shannon Bolt noted that that the city is spending a lot of money to protect the white supremacists’ right to free speech. The organizers of the event are not, as far as I can tell, being told to reimburse the city.

At least, I hope the white supremacists and their armed “security” crew get the message and leave their guns behind.

Garza also noted that “ignoring hate does not make it go away. The point of white supremacists coming here is to put on display their ideology of hate and say they can do it in one of the most progressive areas in the country.”

We will be reporting from Crissy Field and the other rallies, live on Twitter and on Facebook as well as at 48hills.org

Video seeks to sell ‘fabulous’ units cleared by eviction

A video featuring drag queen Carnie Asada is promoting a building where tenants were evicted

The first lesson in San Francisco real estate these days is: Know your history.

Before you rent, buy, promote, or otherwise get involved in a residential unit, tenant activists say, it’s critical to check and make sure that you aren’t taking someone else’s home — that you aren’t moving into a place that’s been cleared through an Ellis Act or illegal Owner Move-In eviction.

That’s not hard to do — the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project has an easy way to search an address and find out if there’s been an eviction. 

A case in point:

A real estate agent is using a video featuring drag queen Carnie Asada to promote the sale of high-end condos on Dolores St — in a building where a 98-year-old woman faced eviction and several others were displaced.

A real estate speculator working with the notorious serial evictors Urban Green first tossed out a family with a baby (two restaurant workers), an SF General Hospital nurse, a Balboa High School teacher and a special education teacher.

Then they set their sights on Mary Phillips, who resisted and fought for two years to keep her home. She ultimately died at 100, which allowed the speculators to clear out the entire place, renovate it to look fabulous, and put it on the market. 

Now Erin Thompson, the real estate agent is using a campy video hyping the fully renovated units, with Carnie Asada describing them as “Casa de Dolores” and talking about “what’s fabulous” about the place.


55 Dolores Street, San Francisco | Erin Thompson, Compass Real Estate from Circle Visions on Vimeo.

Carnie drinks a martini, then a bottle of champagne as she describes the condos, which are not priced on any listing yet but will sell for way more than $1 million each.

But there’s another side to the glamorous video, and you can see it here:

55 Dolores Street, San Francisco – Erin Thompson, Compass Real Estate from Circle Visions on Vimeo.

I spoke to Carnie by email, and she said she had “no idea” about the background of the evictions. She is horrified by the whole thing, and promised to ask the real estate company to take it down.

“I was hired not by the owner but by the real estate agent for a project we thought people would enjoy,” Carnie Asada said.

I understand how this can happen — you’re trying to make a living, and you do funny videos for real-estate sales reps, and you don’t check on the background of the buildings. 

But with the eviction epidemic, every property that isn’t brand new has a history, and that history might come back to haunt you. One way to slow evictions is to take the profit out — and if nobody will buy or rent an Ellised building, tenants lives will be saved.



Capturing queer liberation’s legends and lovers

Anne Kronenberg driving newly elected Supervisor Harvey Milk in the SF LGBT Pride parade, 1978. Photo by Dan Nicoletta from 'LGBT San Francisco (Reel Art Press)

How lucky are we to have had Dan Nicoletta among us these past 40+ years? The curious 20-year-old who worked at Harvey Milk’s camera shop just as the gay rights hero was launching into politics would become a supreme chronicler of San Francisco, documenting, over four decades, the politics, nightlife, personalities, and activism that have made San Francisco so fabulous, and also so important. If it happened on the queer scene, Dan was there, snatching the moment for posterity.

Now, a stupendous new compendium of his photography — LGBT San Francisco: The Daniel Nicoletta Photographs — has just been released by Reel Art Press, and Nicoletta will be in town from his recent new home in Oregon for a Thu/24 book-signing and artist talk at the SF Public Library followed by a fabulous star-studded reception hosted by Juanita More at the War Memorial Green Room. (Another signing takes pace at the Castro’s Dog-Eared Books Sun/27).  

It’s an uncanny pleasure to flip through the 200+ beautifully laid out pages and realize just how many of these photos have become part of the city’s — and one’s own — visual DNA. Not just the perfect Harvey Milk photos, one of which became a groundbreaking US Forever Stamp in 2014, but also those of Gay Day parades and Castro Street Fairs, iconic drag queens and artists, transgender hunks and beauties, ACT-UP protestors and fierce club kids, all captured clearly and boldly in an array of photographic styles.

It’s especially striking to note that this was from a time when cameras weren’t ever-present, not to mention easily accessible with instantaneous results, and that even though many faces and moments were “made for the cameras” there was absolutely no guarantee the cameras would show up. And even though the book’s title focuses on LGBT San Francisco, the subjects — from Allen Ginsberg and Sylvester to the AIDS Quilt and the creator of the rainbow flag — reveal how much of this local history has become universal.

I spoke with Dan over the phone about the book, and how it felt to look back on his body of work in advance of his return to San Francisco. 

Club Chaos and Klubstitute float in the SFLGBT Pride Parade, June 25, 1989

48 HILLS LGBT San Francisco is 312 pages long — and I know that that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what you’ve taken and developed over the past four decades, especially with your omnivorous eye. How did you whittle everything down, and do you consider this a kind of “last will and testament of Dan’s photography.” (I certainly hope not!)  

DAN NICOLETTA Putting something like this together involved some parameters that I’m not necessarily wired for, and that’s why I was so fortunate to work with my editor, Tony Nourmand, on this. He really helped me with the shape of the book and gave me the sort of deadlines and structural suggestions that I normally wouldn’t encounter, although my pictures have been used in journalism and gallery displays. This was really Tony’s labor of love as well, and working with Reel Art Press was just wonderful.

About the pictures themselves — I like that word, omnivorous. I shoot now and think about it later, and a lot of this was that think about it later stuff. I keep moving forward, and left to my own devices I would be photographing Beltane or Foresty Camp, or something super-cool like that up here where I live now, in Grant’s Pass, Oregon.

But this project made me say, you know, you have to honor this previous work, honor the heart of your body of work. I said to myself, well, seeing as how you’re 62 and your memory is faltering, why not do it now? And someone wants to produce a beautiful book out of it! But of course I’ll continue to take pictures, and I already have another book in mind that focuses more on my studio photography. 

Harvey Milk In front of his Castro Street Camera Store, 1977

48 HILLS Your Harvey Milk photos are already part of national history, but I think one of the thing that will immediately jump out at readers is the way, in the book, you show them juxtaposed with their direct recreations in the 2008 movie Milk, which you shot on set. Can you tell me some of the experiences of shooting those similar pictures 30 years apart, and some of the emotions it may have brought up. 

DAN NICOLETTA Regarding being on the set of the Milk movie, the courtship happened from my direction [laughs] since they had the formality of union restrictions. Phil Bray was the official Milk set photographer and he happened to be a prince. And Dustin Lance Black, the writer, wanted me there as well. 

They got me on as a “special” which meant I had five days to do an editorial exploration, but once I was there, Phil took me under his wing and taught me the ropes of how not to step on toes, and so it was this whole organic process of learning how to be both a “special” and the primary source of some of these images. There was a bit of vertigo there for everybody. But the producers were so glad that I was there, and it turned into 10 of the best weeks of my life. 

I’ll tell you a story that you’ll love, coming from the music and nightlife angle. We were shooting the scene with Sylverster singing at Harvey’s birthday, which was a complete frabrication but worked within the logic of the narrative, and captures these two really significant forces of the times. And of course Harvey organized the Castro Street Fairs that Sylvester sang at, so it really wasn’t too far off the mark.

It was in one of those ballroom settings at a hotel downtown where they filmed that. And Mark Martinez who played Sylvester was absolutely fabulous, just nailed it. He was working his magic and I was working the periphery of the room and there was something that just happened emotionally. Of all the scenes that we did, including ones that I had actually been a part of, that one just reached down into the core of my being and wrecked me emotionally. I think a big part of it was Sylvester’s music, taking it up to an incredible level of feeling.

So I went out into the hallway and had a good cry, just let it all out. Some of the costume people and film people — we had become good friends at this point — they busted me out there, and asked, are you OK? And they connected with what a powerful moment it was. Something truly magical.

Castro Street Fair, December Wright (middle) and friends, 1976.

48 HILLS Looking through the book, I was hard-pressed to name any big gay moments you hadn’t been there for. What was your method for always being there — was it just through the grapevine, or were you so constantly shooting that you didn’t miss anything? 

DAN NICOLETTA The irony of that inquiry is that I feel that the end result of the book is only a rudimentary synopsis of the gay liberation movement in San Francisco. So I actually feel it falls somewhat short of including all the wonderful people and moments I wanted to include, but the book kept growing to 200, then 250 pages and finally more than 300 so we had to call it quits at some point! Tony and the publishers were so supportive, but also like, OK, we have to stop now. 

The challenge was, how can we honor everything that happened, despite the fact that I wasn’t really that rigorous in my work. I was rigorous by way of what my peculiarities and interests were, and that’s part of the strength of the work. But I didn’t necessarily fancy myself a journalist or a historian, I fancied myself an artist, but in my own, different way. 

The most recent photo in the book is Richard Lusimbo, the very brave activist from Uganda, in 2016. And he was in San Francisco as part of a lawsuit against anti-LGBT missionaries in Uganda, and being hosted by the Rainbow World Fund. When I was in San Francisco, I called up RWF and they arranged a photography session — so there are perks of being connected in the community for 40 years [laughs].

There is one thing that I really regret not including more of in my work — just something that was growing while I was working, and so important to the shape of the movement. And that is the transgender community. I was fortunate to have captured so many fantastic transgender people over the years, from studio photography to the nightclubs and some political actions. But I just feel like I missed the transgender community in some fundamental way, and I am still pushing myself to make up for that. I also really wanted to honor intersex rights campaigners and personalities better, and that will definitely get fixed in my next, studio-based book.  

Castro Street Fair, circa 1976

48 HILLS The book certainly serves as a showcase of your artistic eye, but you also don’t shy away from telling some hard journalistic truths about the gay community. I was struck by your photos of a crystal meth pipe, for example, and of a homeless man named Stretch with a shopping cart full of recyclables, and of an empty recovery meeting room …

DAN NICOLETTA I discovered the maxim that comes from the disabled community, ‘nothing about us without us.’ The default had always been that everything in the book was from the perspective of an insider, and that was generally true of my trajectory. And so, the recovery stuff was my story. I did have the leverage of having lived through speed addiction and all of that stuff, and I knew Stretch, and just like everything else in the book it was my immediate sphere of experience. I felt really comfortable — and that it was necessary to include these issues, very strongly. 

Doris Fish in her play Blonde Sin, June 26, 1980, San Francisco

48 HILLS Of course I loved all the nightlife photos, and you captured almost everybody I can think of, from Doris Fish to Glamamore … 

DAN NICOLETTA That’s a wonderful arc, Doris Fish to Glamamore. It’s funny, because whereas I was somewhat thorough about nightclub photography, the direction was more about the theatrical in life. So whether it was a street fair or a nightclub, my natural propensity was to capture this colorful drama being presented.

A lot of the way the photos turned out were technically tied to the environment. For instance, I personally do not like direct flash photography, but what else can you do in a nightclub? And the way those photos would turn out would in turn become the “look” of the person being photographed — it’s very hard now to look back and imagine nightclubs where everyone wasn’t being hit by this direct light right in their eyes. [Laughs.] 

Another funny thing is that, a place like Club Uranus at the EndUp in the ’90s, those were my people. And yet I only shot in there once. But the pictures turned out so fantastic — that’s the kind of place that it was — that I felt I didn’t have to do it again. I was fortunate enough to get some of these folks in a studio setting as well. But the ball rolled on and you grabbed your camera and went to the clubs and parties and captured what you could. 

At some point however, especially if you take a more studio path, you have to let go of the verité approach and concentrate on studio work. That’s when you let the kids just getting off the bus to our city of Oz with big dreams grab their cameras and go out into the night, capturing that magic. 

LGBT San Francisco: The Daniel Nicoletta Photographs
Thu/24 Slideshow talk and signing at SF Public Library Main Branch, 5:30pm-7pm, free, more info here.
Thu/24 Dan Nicoletta reception at War Memorial Green Room, 7pm-10pm, free, more info here.
Sun/27 Presentation and signing at Dog-Eared Books Castro, 2pm-4pm, free, more info here.

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Monster in the Mission spends $300K on signatures

The developer has spent more than $300,000 gathering signatures in support of the project

I was out of town when the latest chapter of the Monster in the Mission fight took place. As Mission Local reports, the developer (Maximus, which also owns Park Merced), tried to hold a meeting with local merchants. It was closed to the press — maybe because the last time Maximus tried to hold a community meeting, it didn’t go so well.

We don’t know how well this one went, either. We do know that Joe Arellano, a spokesperson for the project, told Mission Local that “advocates and staff had been gathering the support of thousands of people who have signed a petition backing the project.”

The developer has spent more than $300,000 gathering signatures in support of the project

That’s clearly part of the new strategy for this project: Build what the developer can say is a significant amount of community support for a development that has been unpopular in the community.

But it’s important to understand a little about where that “grassroots” support is coming from. And thanks to some recent amendments to the SF ethics laws, we can get a bit of a sense.

The recent event — and the lobbying effort — has been paid for by Mission For All, which is not a nonprofit or a political organization. It’s a Limited Liability Company, chartered in 2016 in California. Documents at the Secretary of State’s Office show its address as the offices of Nielsen, Merksamer, a San Rafael-based law firm that specializes in campaign finance.

Mission For All is entirely owned and funded by Maximus, the documents show.

Mission For All filed the required disclosures with the SF Ethics Commission, and as of August 11, 2017, the LLC has spent a total of more than $300,000 — just in the past four months — on lobbying, and most of that has gone for paid canvassers to gather signatures in support of the project.

Larry Del Carlo, who lives in Concord, Gene Royale, who lives in Daly City, and Charles Goss, a Sacramento political consultant, have also been paid as consultants.

Now: There’s nothing wrong with hiring paid political canvassers. Campaigns do it all the time. You rarely see this kind of money, in this short a period of time, though, unless someone is trying to gather signatures to put something on the ballot.

That’s not what’s happening here. Instead, Mission For All, LLC is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars sending people door-to-door to try to drum up support for a project that many of the existing grassroots political groups in the Mission oppose.

Again: I see nothing illegal here. I see nothing that hasn’t been done by others, on all sides of issues, many times. (I’ve worked as a paid canvasser myself, way back when, for Connecticut Citizen Action Group and Greenpeace.) I think people who do political work should be paid.

But the scale is pretty dramatic; there’s ton of money going into this effort. And the grassroots opponents of the project have nowhere near this level of resources.

So when Arellano talks about the “thousands of people” who have signed petitions for the project, just remember that his boss has spent more than $300,000 in four months in one neighborhood to get those signatures. 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before in San Francisco politics.