Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sheriff Mirkarimi, Shut Up

For more months than I care to remember, I've been reading the San Francisco Chronicle's coverage of the Ross Mirkarimi case.  For those of you not so informed, here's the 50,000 foot view:

S.F. Supervisor runs successfully for County Sheriff.  Sheriff-elect, not yet in office, grabs wife by arm and bruises her in a heated dispute.  Wife complains to neighbor, who videotapes her (including bruise).  Neighbor takes video to police.  Sheriff-elect says it's a "private family matter."  Sheriff-elect indicted for domestic violence, cops a plea for unlawful imprisonment, takes office.  Mayor suspends sheriff pending Ethics Commission Review.

San Francisco's well developed and active domestic violence prevention community went ballistic at that "private family matter" remark.  This is what domestic abusers always say, it's the classic response.  It hasn't been legally true in the U.S. since 1871, although enforcement has been very variable around the country.  The sheriff-on-leave has gone public recently in several detailed and vocal defenses of his position.  If you really want to read the details, just Google "Mirkarimi" - I don't think there's anyone else in the news with that name right now.  He was even on Michael Krasny's Forum on KQED for an hour.

I have one piece of advice for Sheriff Mirkarimi.  Sheriff, button your lip and zip it up tight.  Shut your pie-hole, and let your lawyer do the talking.  Because you convict yourself every time you open your trap.

Mirkarimi thinks his problem is that the mayor has unjustly suspended him from "his job," and referred his case to the Ethics Committee.  He has problems, but that isn't one of them.

His first problem is that he doesn't think he did anything really wrong.  He's apologized.  He's taken responsibility.  He now thinks that everyone should forget and forgive him, if he only explains himself enough.

His bigger problem:  he doesn't realize (or won't admit to himself) that the Sheriff's job isn't really "his."  The Sheriff is an elected official in San Francisco.  He ran for the job and won; the people voted for him.  Ask yourself if he would have won that election if this incident had happened, say 3 weeks before election day.  You know the answer. I don't think he's ever considered the question.

Why do I care?  I don't even live in San Francisco.  I care for two reasons.  One, I have close female relatives who have been abused by their husbands.  I've never been a victim, but I know victims.  And this guy reminds me of those men.  Two, I care about even-handed law enforcement.  And you can't have a man enforcing the law who thinks it's OK for him to break it, as long as it's just a little chip off the edge.  If the crime involved here was theft, or murder, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.  But it's only domestic abuse, so we get to listen to the Sheriff try to explain how misunderstood he is.

No, sir.  You are not misunderstood.  I understand you all too well.


  1. Anonymous6:05 AM

    Yes. Thank you for writing this.

  2. I am of several minds about the Mirkarimi affair. Like you, I'm not a San Francisco resident, so why should I care?

    The media has been all over this and everyone gets to wring their hands and be "shocked, shocked!" that a minor domestic dispute was turned into a three-ring circus.

    I grew up in a home where there was domestic violence, so I know what it means. I've often wondered what would have occurred if people in those days had routinely chosen to go public and involve the police. I can't imagine, that, under the circumstances, it would have had any useful effect. Most married people have heated disagreements, and some get heated physically. Marriage is a dialogue, and it's frequently been observed that couples who don't have meaningful disagreements are more likely to have failed marriages than those who do. Of course, that isn't a defense of abuse--but an acknowledgement that neither the public nor the private good are necessarily served by turning private disputes into news items and gossip fodder.

    Classic "wife abusers" are however a different breed--they're pathological, and can even become murderous.

    Treating all "domestic abuse" cases in the same way is stupid. From what we've been told, Mirkarimi's "incident" was pretty tame. He is by no stretch of the imagination or the law a "wife abuser" who could be said to have "endangered" his family. His wife may have been seduced into thinking that she could wield some useful influence in her marriage by wrecking her husband's career as revenge for a perceived disrespect. Mirkarimi wasn't a chronic abuser, and the incident in question couldn't have been the basis for a serious abuse investigation or civil case.

    What happened in the Mirkarimi incident shouldn't have been treated the way it was. And the wife can thank herself for ruining what was, by some accounts, a pretty good marriage, and her husband's career. Wonderful. I wonder what they say now to each other in private?

    People in public life do have a higher standard to adhere to. In Mirkarimi's case, he made a stupid mistake. He lost control, and his wife took the opportunity to make him pay a very high price for that. Once it hit the tabloids, Mirkarimi was pretty much cooked. What would your advice to him have been?

    If he had not been an elected sheriff in a large metropolitan jurisdiction, the whole thing would have been trivial non-news. The only thing that makes it news was that he was an elected sheriff, and to the extent he was a public figure, he "deserves" the consequences fame and notoriety cause.

    If I'd have been a counselor to the couple, I would have advised the wife that if she truly felt injured or endangered by her husband, she ought to have divorced him. Because, in the end, what she did was much more destructive. Who believes their marriage has any chance now?

    Mirkarimi has at no point been "in denial" about his actions, so blaming him for being open about it is like shooting fish in a barrel. Mirkarimi believes, I suppose, that trying to come clean might be a superior course to "lying low" or saying it was all a tempest. But he can't win, and he should know that. Probably he does. Everyone who participates in the media event--both the media, and the public--are adding to the pain and trauma that will continue to damage the family's future prospects. Aren't we so cocky and unctuous in our indignation!

    Otherwise, the punishment clearly doesn't fit the "crime," and much more harm has been done than ever needed to be. How wonderful. We can all sit by smugly and crow over the ruination of a public career.