Flowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle remain at a memorial site on Pier 14 in San Francisco in July 2015. Paul Chinn AP file
Flowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle remain at a memorial site on Pier 14 in San Francisco in July 2015. Paul Chinn AP file

Editorials

Kate Steinle has been a martyr. It’s time to let her be a daughter

By the Editorial Board

December 01, 2017 11:39 AM

UPDATED December 01, 2017 05:10 PM

“We just want to get this over with and move on with our lives, and think about Kate on our terms. Nothing’s been on our terms. It’s been on everyone else’s terms.”

That’s what Jim Steinle told The San Francisco Chronicle in the days before a jury acquitted undocumented immigrant Jose Ines Garcia Zarate in the death of his 32-year-old daughter.

It was Jim who had been walking with Kate on a bustling San Francisco pier in July 2015 when a shot rang out and a bullet entered her back. He held her as she died.

Hours later, he learned it was Garcia Zarate, who had been released from the San Francisco jail despite a record of nonviolent felonies and a federal request that he be held for his sixth deportation, had pulled the trigger.

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That was day Jim Steinle lost both his daughter and her story. Kate Steinle’s death became fodder for the tribal politics of a presidential election. It was about anger and revenge and fear. It was about ideological wars over illegal immigration and sanctuary cities. It was about political expediency. It was about bureaucratic screw-ups and careless government employees. It was about gun control and homelessness and mental health care.

But it wasn’t about Kate Steinle.

So it was entirely predictable that in the minutes after the verdict was read aloud at the San Francisco Hall of Justice on Thursday, clearing Garcia Zarate of murder and manslaughter charges, Twitter erupted in opportunistic rage masquerading as empathy.

“Jury convinced that illegal alien killed Kate Steinle accidentally,” tweeted right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter. “She would still be alive if we had a wall.”

A while later, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a statement about “criminal aliens.” And a while after that, President Donald Trump, who has used her death to justify building a wall along the border with Mexico, tweeted: “A disgraceful verdict in the Kate Steinle case! No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with Illegal Immigration.”

Many others with less illustrious titles lashed out at the sanctuary city of San Francisco and demanded Congress enact “Kate’s Law” to punish deported immigrants who return to the United States.

Meanwhile, the Steinle family was at home in the East Bay, quietly grieving. They had decided not travel to San Francisco.

“We have never had a second of anger – not a moment,” Jim Steinle told The Chronicle’s John Diaz before the verdict. “Frustration, maybe, and sadness for sure, but no anger and no retaliation or vindictiveness or anything like that. We’re not that kind of people.”

True to his word, once the verdict was announced, he told Diaz the family was “just saddened” to learn that jurors only convicted Garcia Zarate of possession of a firearm.

Kate’s brother Brad said he wasn’t even surprised. To him, it was one more “epic failure” in a long list that led to his sister getting killed, from Garcia Zarate being released from federal custody on a decades-old drug charge to a Bureau of Land Management ranger leaving a loaded handgun in his vehicle to be stolen and fired on a crowded pier.

The good news is that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has already promised to deport Garcia Zarate again. The Department of Justice also issued warrant for his arrest on Friday and is considering filing a federal charges.

Blaming the system rarely feels as satisfying as blaming a person. So, in the weeks to come, Trump, Sessions and other politicians probably will continue to use Kate Steinle’s name in vain. Let’s hope others can find the empathy to give the Steinle family what they want: the space to make Kate’s death about her, about them and not about the rest of us.