Nation: Another Day of Death

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A former San Francisco official kills the mayor and a supervisor

The gathering constellation of torchlights nickered first at the corner of 18th and Castro streets, in the center of the homosexual community that makes up about one-eighth of San Francisco's population. Held high by marchers stepping to the slow cadence of three drums, the bobbing lights moved down Market Street, their brilliance growing as the grieving crowd multiplied. By the time they reached the steps of the bronze-domed city hall, the crowd of youthful homosexuals, male and female, had been joined by many more conventional citizens, and an army of some 30,000 mourners expressed the sorrow of the shaken city.

At the flower-strewn steps, the mood of the civil rights rebellion of the 1960s was evoked as the crystalline voice of Folk Singer Joan Baez led the assembled marchers in the familiar songs: Kumbaya, Amazing Grace and Oh, Freedom. More candles were lit, more wreaths dropped on the steps, and an undercurrent of bitterness broke through the sadness. "Are you happy, Anita?" asked one crudely lettered sign in cruel reference to homosexuality's hated foe, Anita Bryant.

Once stately and even staid, a very citadel of culture in California, San Francisco has been scarred repeatedly in recent years by outbreaks of violence and turmoil (see following story). It was horrified two weeks ago when it awoke to the realization that it had nourished the Peoples Temple, an ostensibly humanitarian and religious cult whose leader, Jim Jones, had ordered the assassination of California Congressman Leo Ryan and then led 911 followers to their deaths in a frenzy of mass suicide and murder in remote Guyana. But San Francisco's shock was more centrally focused last week from the moment when a tearful Dianne Feinstein, president of the board of supervisors, stepped outside her city hall office to tell a stunned group of city employees and reporters: "It is my duty to inform you that both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed."

Mayor George Moscone, 49, had learned only a few days before of the deaths of Jones, whom he had once appointed head of the city housing authority, and of the other Guyana victims. "I proceeded to vomit and cry," Moscone had said. Supervisor Harvey Milk, 48, who had spoken at political rallies at the Peoples Temple, had candidly proclaimed his homosexuality and won election to the city's eleven-member governing board. He had also left a tape recording predicting that he might be killed because he had become such a prominent political spokesman for gays. The man charged with killing the other two was not some wild-eyed lunatic but an ex-member of the board of supervisors, Daniel James White, 32. White was a clean-cut former police officer and fireman, who was described by most acquaintances as a handsome, athletic, ever-achieving all-American boy. "If he had been a breakfast cereal," said one acquaintance, "he would have had to be Wheaties."

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