On May 21, 1979. ex-cop, ex-fireman,
ex-supervisor of San Francisco, Dan White was
found guilty of manslaughter for the murder of Mayor George Moscone
and Gay Supervisor Harvey Milk. White was given a 7-year sentence
(in truth, 4 years) for killing two of our leaders. The entire
city was in shock. As evening approached, a crowd gathered
at Castro and Market. We were angry. We wanted the world to know
we were angry. We took over Castro Street and stood around with no idea of what we should do. Eventually the crowd moved into the intersection of Castro and Market. Traffic came to a standstill.
There were only a few policemen present and they did nothing more than observe the scene. As time passed, the crowd grew larger, eventually exceeding 1000. TV News
trucks arrived. More police arrived. Amid the shouting and whistle blowing, there were shouts from the crowd. "CITY HALL" became the rallying cry.
We began moving down Market toward
City Hall, getting louder, growing larger, picking
up momentum. The next picture shows the size of the crowd by the time we reached Chruch Street, 3 blocks from Castro.
The crowd had become huge by the time we reached the Civic Center. There was nothing to do, no one addressed the group, no one gave any instructions. But something had to happen. We were much too angry to just end the demonstration. Some people near the entrance began pulling the wrought iron grillwork off the doors and using the pieces to break the glass.
Most of us were horrified to see the beautiful building attacked, but some followed by breaking windows in other parts of the building. One person was seen entering through a broken basement window. He started a fire using papers on the desk in the room.
City Hall was trashed. Several hundred police in riot gear stood in formation at the corner, watching the activity, but they were not allowed to respond, a wise decision
on the part of the administration. For some reason they had parked police cars at the other end of the block. No one really wanted to destroy City Hall. They just wanted to make a statement. However, when the Activists went after the cars, cheers of approval came from the crowd.
A dozen police cars were torched. Car horns and sirens from the burning cars added a chaotic note to the smoky night air.
ACTIVIST SALLY GERHARD
SUPERVISOR HARRY BRITT
Seemingly appeased, some
began heading back to the Castro. Others feared the inevitable retaliation and hurried off into the night. At some point after the crowd
thinned, the police were unleashed, and heads began to roll.
Battles erupted everywhere and many fought back valiantly. Tree
limbs and parking meters and pieces of asphalt were used as weapons.
These were not limp-wristed fairies. These were real men fighting
for what they believed in. Police suffered nearly as many casualties
as the resistance. The people were eventually driven from the
Civic Center and the slower ones suffered the wrath of the overzealous
officers. They pushed people down to Market Street where many
store windows had already been broken by rioting vandals.
Castro street was full of people
relating stories, debating the issues, licking wounds. After
Midnight dozens of police arrived. They had been humiliated earlier
and were here to even the score. They gathered at Market and
started moving the crowd down toward 18th. We were in no mood
to comply. Many of them weren't wearing badges and name tags!
They came to our neighborhood to get even. They formed a line
and moved us half way down the block. It became evident to all,
even to those who had stayed in the Castro and away from the
riot; WE WERE AT WAR WITH THE POLICE! People came from every
direction to join the resistance and we moved the invading forces
right back up to the corner. They appeared to be leaving but
they somehow regrouped at the corner of 18th and Castro. We stood
and watched as they marched into the Elephant Walk, smashing
windows, doors, tables, chairs, bottles, and peoples' heads.
Some victims needed to be hospitalized. These police were vicious.
They were very unprofessional. They were out for blood.
POLICE STORMING ELEPHANT
MAY 21, 1979 - photographer
The rioting police cost the City a fortune
in Lawsuits and Investigations. The FBI even looked into it.
We had no reason to apologize for our action (I personally just
took pictures and observed). We had been pushed beyond our ability
to swallow any more hatred and we did what we had to do.
But our Elephant Walk was in shambles!
The next day was Harvey Milk's Birthday!
HARVEY'S BIRTHDAY PARTY
MAY 22, 1979 on Castro
A permit had been issued
to close Castro Street for a Birthday party for Harvey. The City
didn't dare revoke the permit and risk a second night of rioting.
Even the event organizers could not have stopped that party.
Tension was extremely high. The police had command posts and
hundreds of men out of sight but within a couple blocks of the
party. The second floor offices of Cliff's Variety Store were
dark but were manned by Police and City Hall Bigwigs. They knew
we were capable of maintaining our own security and control under
normal conditions. They had to trust us. They couldn't risk a
show of force.
Good Time Was Had By All ! ! !
After a round of rhetoric and political babble from the temporary
stage erected on Castro Street, disco music filled the air. Soon
we were all dancing and the tension level dropped to a reasonable
level. The party was lots of fun and there were no problems,
except that the Elephant Walk was closed. It was a blessing and
a major victory for us that all went well. We showed that we
weren't out of control then, or the previous night (White Night-
as it came to be called). We were making a statement, and Harvey's
Birthday Party was an important part of that statement!
THE ELEPHANT WALK REOPENED THE NEXT DAY.
I've been told that Mayor Feinstein dropped in for lunch.
I don't know if it is true.
RELEVANT PAGES ON THIS SITE:
FRED ROGERS, owner of the ELEPHANT WALK,
talks about the aftermath of the riots from his perspective.
LELAND FRANCES talks about White Night.
Uncle Donald talks about CITY HALL