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May 2004





Kamala Harris Kamala Harris
District Attorney, San Francisco

In the latter half of 2003, Kamala Harris ran for the office of District Attorney, San Francisco. Throughout her campaign, Harris made her intentions quite clear; to be tough on crime, particularly with respect to prosecution and conviction rates of violent crimes, but within a progressive agenda that reflected the will of the San Francisco electorate. Harris' opposition to the death penalty was a key aspect of that progressive agenda.

In April 2004, San Francisco police officer Isaac Espinoza, was murdered by a gunman in the city's Bayview district. David Hill was arrested and charged with the murder shortly afterwards. After examining the facts of the case against Hill, and in keeping with her stated principles, Harris decided not to pursue the death penalty against Hill, aiming instead to secure a conviction and sentence of life in prison without parole.

That decision appeared to mark the start of open season on Harris. Elected officials of all ranks, including US Senator Dianne Feinstein, conservative commentators and the San Francisco Police Department have criticized Harris' decision, calling for the case to be removed from her office and the death penalty to be pursued.

Despite the pressures brought about by these attacks, Harris hasn't blinked. In fact, her calm conduct throughout the following weeks, while possibly motivated by a desire not to prejudice a case yet to be tried, have clearly elevated her above her critics. She appears professional, holding clear principles and the integrity to stand by them. Her critics appear variously as vengeful, fickle, pandering and opportunist. Those critics do not appear to include the majority of people who elected her to do the job she is doing; a recent poll shows that 70% of San Franciscans support Harris' actions in the case against David Hill.

Schott's Original Miscellany Schott's Original Miscellany
Ben Schott

This is a well-presented collection of marginally useful yet curiously addictive facts. Not a book to be read from cover to cover, it's more fun to pick through it at random and see what you find:

The nine ways to be dismissed in cricket (I could only remember six of the nine).

The names of the shipping forecast areas used by the British Metreological office. (I only just found out they renamed "Finistere" as "Fitzroy" in 2002)

A table of poker hands and their associated probabilities.

The RGB, CMYK, Pantone and Web Safe color specifications of the Union Jack.

A table of American presidents, with annotations indicating those who were assassinated, carved on Mount Rushmore, attended Harvard, left-handed, unmarried, Geminis, Quakers, or bearded.

It's tempting to recommend Schott's Miscellany as an excellent choice of book for the bathroom; in that department, it definitely gives Tintin a good run for this money. However, it's very difficult to put this book down...

Dianne Feinstein Dianne Feinstein
US Senator, California.

On Friday April 16th, I sat in my car for 20 minutes at a police roadblock on Market Steet in San Francisco, as the funeral cortege of Isaac Espinoza slowly snaked by on its way to a cemetery in Colma. Espinoza, a police officer, had been murdered the week before. Prior to his funeral, the San Francisco District Attorney, Kamala Harris, indicated that she would not seek the death penalty against David Hill, recently arrested and charged with Espinoza's murder. Harris' decision was based on a philosophical opposition to the death penalty - prominently featured in her recent election campaign - and on a legal assessment of the case that could be made against Hill.

Dianne Feinstein chose to use Espinoza's funeral to speak out against the D.A.'s decision, and to call for pursuit of the death penalty. With an audience dominated by police officers, it's not surprising she received a standing ovation.

Feinstein is not alone; others, including Barbara Boxer and Bill Lockyer, have also called for the death penalty to be pursued, and for the case to be removed from the San Francisco District Attorney. It's almost laughable how many established politicians have seen fit to undermine the office of the District Attorney - and the will of the San Francisco electorate - while attempting to score cheap points in what for some is an election year. However, Feinstein deserves special mention for choosing to use the officer's funeral at St Mary's Cathedral to make her comments; this represents political opportunism at its worst and frankly, I thought better of her. Her current disregard for the San Francisco electorate is pointed, given her past roles as both supervisor and mayor of San Francisco.

In defending her comments, Feinstein says, "I think I've earned the right to say what I think". Thankfully, that isn't a right you have to earn in the USA. On the other hand, the right to lead is earned and, when it comes to the death penalty, Feinstein is no leader - she's a follower, like far too many other politicians.

© Andy Currid 2004-2005