Mayor Ed Lee wants to install a plaque honoring Kate Steinle, the woman allegedly shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant on Pier 14 in July.
“She was somebody that was innocently killed on our streets,” said the mayor, whose move to permanently memorialize the seemingly random tragedy has support from the city's police union, according to KPIX.
However, Steinle's death has also become the flashpoint in a national uproar over immigration and San Francisco's sanctuary city policies. Her name and her tragedy have since been exploited by right-wing blowhards Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly, as well as by Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton. Trump even brandished Steinle's death as justification to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But what does Lee want from Steinle's death?
Whatever it is, Lee is being dishonest about how he views the shooting. To say Steinle was just “somebody… innocently killed on our streets” is to knowingly downplay her death’s political aftershocks and its use in the 2016 presidential race. It also reveals the ugly opportunism at the heart of Lee's professed desire to offer condolences.
[jump] Steinle was allegedly shot and killed by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a 45-year-old Mexican national with a rap sheet of drug offenses and a history of being deported. (Investigators later determined that Steinle was killed after a bullet from Sanchez's gun, which had been stolen out of a Bureau of Land Management ranger's car, ricocheted off the pavement and struck her in the back; Sanchez will stand trial for murder.)
San Francisco’s sanctuary city ordinance prohibited local officials from notifying federal immigration authorities when Sanchez was released from jail in March. A later standoff between Mayor Lee and Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi indicated just how murky and open to interpretation the city’s sanctuary city policy is.
“If there is a way to honor [Steinle’s] life and her positivity, for a city that is officially apologizing for that event and trying to prevent it from happening to anybody else, I’ll support it,” Lee said this week.
But what about the 31 other homicide victims in San Francisco this year? Or the 45 last year? Or the 48 in 2013?
To put it bluntly, none of those victims could be so easily martyred to score political points. Although Mayor Lee defends the city’s sanctuary city policy, he also wasted no time in turning Steinle’s death into a referendum on GOP obstructionism around immigration reform.
“Even after repeated attempts by President Obama and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to reform our immigration laws, Republicans in Congress have blocked those efforts, unfortunately, leaving cities and local municipalities to act upon immigration issues that affect its residents,” Lee said in a statement shortly after the shooting.
San Francisco has contended with “immigration issues” before. In 2008, Edwin Ramos, an undocumented Salvadoran and MS-13 gang member, shot and killed Anthony Bologna and his two sons in the Excelsior. As with Sanchez, Ramos had a criminal record (although he’d never been deported), and was protected by the city’s sanctuary city ordinance.
San Francisco did not endorse or construct a monument to the Bolognas. Nor did the city gut its sanctuary city policy.
In what has to be one of the most disingenuous remarks the mayor has made this year, Lee told KPIX, “Every situation is different. I don’t value [Steinle] being more special than anybody else.”
So if Steinle isn’t more special than anybody else, why isn’t Mayor Lee also considering throwing up a memorial to Taja DeJesus, a 36-year-old transgender woman stabbed to death in Bayview in February?
Or a plaque for Prince Johnson, a 33-year-old man gunned down in the Potrero Terrace public housing project in July?
Or one honoring Bryan Higgins, a 31-year-old Radical Faerie and Castro fixture who was beaten to death last year?
Or any of the other innocent men and women slain on our streets during Mayor Lee's watch?
The answer is because for Lee, Steinle’s death is grist for the political mill. A plaque marking the scene of her death isn’t about commemoration but exploitation. If that wasn't true, the city would be sprouting all over with municipal monuments to ordinary citizens who'd been murdered — not just to those who, according to City Hall at least, didn't die in vain.