By John Kass
December 1, 2017
In this July 17, 2015 file photo, flowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle remain at a memorial site on Pier 14 in San Francisco.(Paul Chinn/AP)
The photograph is of a lovely young woman, with a warm smile on her face, a woman who loved and was loved in turn.
Her name was Kate Steinle.
The last words she said to her father before she died were “Help me, Dad.”
So look at that photo. See the promise in her face.
Some are calling her a symbol now of what’s wrong with illegal immigration. I’m not so sure. My parents were immigrants.
I grew up in this country desperate to become an American. So immigration isn’t some political exercise for me. It’s been part of my life.
But so has been my understanding of what binds us together, all of us, so many different people, with our different ethnicities and habits and foods and languages.
It is the belief in the rule of law. And without that, we’re nothing.
Making Kate Steinle a symbol doesn’t do her justice. She wasn’t a symbol of anything when that bullet took her. She was just a young American woman, walking with her dad.
When you look at the photo, you might want to fix the light of her eyes in your mind. But do it quickly, because Kate Steinle is in the way of politics, and she’s fading from view.
She’s being muscled out of the news.
The guilty plea of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in the Russia investigation of President Donald Trump’s administration demands attention. The Republican tax cut demands attention.
And more allegations of sexual misconduct by political and media elites will get attention.
But before she fades from the news cycle, please consider this.
Kate Steinle isn’t merely a casualty of a senseless act of some habitual criminal who was cleared of murder charges in San Francisco the other day.
Kate Steinle is a casualty of American politics, of sanctuary city politics.
And that makes her a political problem. That makes her an irritant to Democratic politicians and the open-borders types who use sanctuary city policies to bend immigration law and win Mexican-American votes.
You might not like it, but that’s what it is. They defy federal law to satisfy their local politics.
So yes, she’s a problem, because it was sanctuary city policy that protected Jose Zarate, a career criminal who had already been deported five times and was in this country illegally.
Zarate had been in local custody on a drug charge. And rather than bow to a detainer request of federal immigration authorities and hold him, Sanctuary San Francisco let Jose Zarate go.
There was a stolen gun in his hand as Kate Steinle and her father walked along Pier 14.
He initially told police he’d been shooting at a sea lion.
But if he had killed the sea lion, Zarate would have been convicted of something.
The bullet killed Kate Steinle instead. And a jury acquitted him of all the serious charges, from murder to manslaughter.
A charge of murder requires proof of direct intent and there were no witnesses to intent. I’ve seen it argued that local prosecutors overreached in charging murder in the first degree. I wouldn’t disagree.
Yet he also walked on manslaughter charges. And how a man can fire a gun and kill someone and not be convicted of manslaughter? That is beyond me.
I wasn’t in that courtroom. Her family was, though. And her father, Jim Steinle, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the family was shocked and saddened by the verdict.
“There’s no other way you can join it. Justice was rendered, but it was not served,” he said.
And justice still isn’t being served, as long as sanctuary cities allow local political warlords to buy votes by bending federal law.
The politics of this are smart, and effective, which is why so many big cities with large Mexican populations have adopted sanctuary city policies.
But under the law, immigration is the province of the federal government. And without the law, what are we? A collection of squabbling city-states?
Why do we even have a federal government at all, if only to allow each state, each city and the local warlords to make their own separate immigration policy?
Only the people of a sovereign nation have the right to decide what to do about their own borders. And their will is expressed by Congress.
A nation without borders isn’t a nation. It’s just land that can be grabbed by whoever is tough enough to grab it.
And releasing criminals onto the streets to satisfy your political goals isn’t policy. It’s dangerous.
But all that wasn’t on the mind of Jim Steinle or his daughter Kate when they were walking along that San Francisco pier.
“Kate was beautiful, kind, happy, caring, loving and deep in faith,” Jim Steinle said in testifying before Congress in 2015. “Kate had a special soul, a kind and giving heart, the most contagious laugh, and a smile that would light up a room.
“… The day she was killed, we were walking arm in arm on Pier 14 in San Francisco, enjoying a wonderful day together. Suddenly a shot rang out, Kate fell, and looked at me and said, ‘Help me, Dad.’ Those are the last words I will ever hear from my daughter,” he said.
In America, we say that justice is blind because we know that without justice under the rule of law, we’re finished.
What happened to Kate Steinle wasn’t justice.
A bullet took her life. But it was politics that killed her.
Listen to "The Chicago Way" podcast with John Kass and Jeff Carlin — at wgnradio.com/category/wgn-plus/thechicagoway.
Related: San Francisco defends sanctuary status as backlash mounts over acquittal in Steinle death »