The death of Kate Steinle, who was fatally shot while on a stroll with her father in San Francisco’s Embarcadero, has become a rallying cry for more stringent immigration laws, including a crackdown on “sanctuary cities” and the creation of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Calls for the border wall have grown louder since Thursday, after a San Francisco jury acquitted a Mexican immigrant charged with the 32-year-old’s murder. On social media, many advocating for the border wall have used #KatesWall as they condemned the acquittal of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a felon who was in the country illegally at the time of Steinle’s death.
White nationalist and alt-right leader Richard Spencer announced on Twitter that he will be at Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, on Sunday afternoon “to demand Trump build #KatesWall.” President Trump has demanded funding for the border wall, but Congress has yet to agree to provide beyond the $20 million allotted for prototypes and related infrastructure.
Spencer is among many on the far right who were angered by the jury’s decision to acquit Garcia Zarate of not only murder, but also lesser charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon. Jurors agreed with the defense that the shooting was accidental. The 45-year-old Garcia Zarate, who had previously entered the United States illegally six times and has seven prior felony convictions, was instead found guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm, which carries a sentence of up to three years.
Back at Pier 14 in San Francisco, where Steinle was shot in 2015, tall and short white candles were lined up neatly around and on a wooden bench. A picture of a smiling Steinle is taped on a white poster and surrounded by handwritten messages.
“You’re not here because somebody who wasn’t supposed to be was,” one wrote.
Right below Steinle’s picture: “Build the Wall.”
The memorial was created by white nationalists, according to local media reports. Tucked in one of the bouquets of flowers on the bench is a card from a group called the Bay Area Alt Right.
The group confirmed on Twitter that its members went to the spot where Steinle was killed and “paid tribute” to the young woman, hours after Garcia Zarate was acquitted of murder. Identity Evropa, a white separatist group, shared a video of its members lighting candles and writing messages on the white poster.
Identity Evropa, a group that focuses on white European heritage, called the acquittal “an indictment of not only San Francisco, but our country overall” in a Twitter post that used #BoycottSanFrancisco and #BuildTheWall. A post from Bay Area Alt Right said the country is “under hostile occupation” and called on Trump to “liberate us.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is leading the Trump administration’s crackdown on sanctuary cities, said on Fox News’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that Steinle’s death is “one of the most tragic stories that anyone could have.”
“But the fundamental question we’ve got to deal with, and it’s time for this country to get its head on straight — these cities should not be protecting criminal aliens,” Sessions said. “They come into the country unlawfully and then they commit another crime, and then they hide that individual and don’t let them, as they did with Zarate, be turned over to the ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] officers so they can be properly deported.”
The Justice Department later said that the agency has issued an arrest warrant and is considering federal charges against Garcia Zarate. Sessions confirmed as much on Fox News, saying Garcia Zarate will continue to remain in custody before he’s ultimately deported.
“And you can be sure our Department of Justice is working right now to bring any charges that are appropriate,” Sessions said. “One warrant has been released on him because he has violated his terms of release in a federal — his prior federal conviction for returning to the country unlawfully.”
Trump, who invoked Steinle’s death repeatedly on the campaign trail as he called for a border wall, said in a tweet that the not-guilty verdict is “disgraceful” and is yet more proof of why Americans “are so angry with Illegal Immigration.”
Steinle’s father, Jim Steinle, said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that the verdict had “saddened and shocked” the family. But more than anything, he said, they want to finally move away from the public attention brought by the politicization of his daughter’s death.
“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’s terms,” Steinle said.
Kate Steinle’s killing led to the creation of a bill known as Kate’s Law, which would enhance penalties for convicted and deported criminals who reenter the United States illegally. The bill was passed by the House in June but has stalled in the Senate, where it appears to have little chance, if any, of passing.
Steinle was shot the evening of July 1, 2015. Garcia Zarate was captured shortly afterward.
Around the time of Steinle’s death, Garcia Zarate had just finished a nearly four-year federal prison sentence for illegally reentering the country. He was turned over to San Francisco law enforcement officials because of an outstanding warrant for a marijuana-related charge that was immediately dismissed. Local officials released him, despite a request from federal authorities to keep him in custody because of his immigration status, according to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Steinle’s family.
Less than three months after Garcia Zarate’s release, Steinle was killed.
Jurors were asked to determine whether Garcia Zarate intentionally opened fire on a crowd at Pier 14 or whether the .40-caliber handgun he was holding accidentally discharged.
Deputy District Attorney Diana Garcia said in her opening statements in October that Garcia Zarate “meant to shoot” at people, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The gun, a Sig Sauer P239 semiautomatic pistol, was stolen from an unlocked car of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger, authorities said.
Public defender Matt Gonzalez said someone else had wrapped the weapon in a T-shirt and left it under the bench at the pier, where Garcia Zarate, who had been living on the streets since his release, stumbled upon it. The gun accidentally discharged as Garcia Zarate was unwrapping it, Gonzalez told jurors, calling the shooting the result of a “freakish ricochet” of a bullet.
The jury sided with the defense after a weeks-long trial and six days of deliberation.
The memorial to Steinle had grown larger by Friday, with passersby leaving cards and writing on the poster, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
People who walked by it offered mixed reactions on the verdict.
“It feels like the verdict could have been harsher,” Lisa Thordsen of Pleasanton, Calif., told CBS affiliate KPIX, adding: “I wasn’t sitting in the juror box. I imagine those people are having deep thoughts over their coffees this morning.”
Linda Moyer said that although she’s proud of her city’s diversity, the verdict suggests that San Francisco is “soft on crime.”
“Something like this, a guy who shouldn’t be on the streets, it just saddens me. . . . When you look at the history of this guy, how did he fall through the cracks?” she told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Barbara Belloli, another San Francisco resident, was more blunt.
“I think Trump should keep his mouth shut,” she told the Chronicle.
Others said Garcia Zarate had a fair trial.
“If the [jury] finds him innocent of murder, who’s anybody to say?” Marin County resident Gary Kleiman told the Chronicle.
This story, originally posted Dec. 2, has been updated.