Berkeley College Republicans vigil for Kate Steinle sparks controversy

Berkeley College Republicans/Courtesy

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Berkeley College Republicans, or BCR, held a candlelight vigil for Kate Steinle on Thursday evening, garnering criticism from local activists.

The vigil took place on the steps of Sproul Hall, where participants laid down flowers and candles in memory of Steinle, who was fatally shot in San Francisco in 2015. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who was initially charged in connection with Steinle’s death, was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges Nov. 30. BCR held the vigil in light of Garcia Zarate’s acquittal, according to BCR external vice president Naweed Tahmas.

“We were appalled and disappointed by the decision not to charge (Garcia Zarate) with murder or, at the very least, manslaughter,” Tahmas said. “We don’t want her name or memory to be forgotten.”

BCR arranged candles to spell out Steinle’s name and, according to Tahmas, organized a signed poster to send to the district attorney in the hopes that their condolences would reach the Steinle family. BCR organized the event without the family’s coordination, although Tahmas said BCR had tried to reach out to them.

About 20 people attended the vigil, which was met with both support and opposition from local activists. Raphael Kadaris, a member of Refuse Fascism, condemned BCR for politicizing Steinle’s death. He and two other members of the group held banners to demonstrate their support of immigration.

“These people don’t care about Kate Steinle,” Kadaris said. “They are using the tragic death of Kate Steinle to incite hatred and bigotry against immigrants.”

A crowd formed around Kadaris, whose banners accused Republicans of justifying “ethnic cleansing” and called for an end to the Donald Trump-Mike Pence administration. Kadaris also initiated an argument with the Refuse Fascism protesters about fascism. Bay Area resident Jeanne Solnordal, who said she attended the vigil because of the “unfair” verdict, engaged with Kadaris in debate and said she found his presence “disrespectful.”

BCR member Chase Aplin said he believed that the jury’s decision was an “injustice.” Aplin said he also believed “political vindictiveness” against Trump motivated the jury’s decision to release Garcia Zarate.

“Certain deaths should be politicized,” Aplin said. “This is a death that if the policies I support were in play, she would still be alive.”

Cal Berkeley Democrats president Caiden Nason briefly attended the event and expressed disapproval at the organization of the vigil, which he claimed “politicized” Steinle’s death against her family’s will.

Nason alleged that BCR was not hosting the event out of “the kindness of their heart,” but in order to provoke a response.

“I think there are good questions about whether the verdict was right, but this is not an immigration case and shouldn’t be turned into one,” said Nason. “A protest is only going to further politicize this awful thing that happened to this family.”

Contact Sophia Brown-Heidenreich at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sophiabrownh.