Standing Up Against Domestic Violence and the Old Boys Political Network in San Francisco

Michael Bernick
California Labor Department Director from 1999-2004; Counsel with the international law firm of Duane Morris and a Milken Institute Fellow.

 (This week’s Fox and Hounds employment posting was to be on young entrepreneurs in California, and the jobs they are generating. However, that posting will have to wait. Over the past few days in San Francisco, a truly inspiring effort by courageous women and the District Attorney has taken place, that deserves the attention of all Californians, including us in the job training/employment community.)

On Friday, January 6, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that newly elected Sheriff, Mr. Ross Mirkarimi was being investigated for domestic violence against his wife, Eliana Lopez. According to the Chronicle report by prominent columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross, a neighbor called police after Ms. Lopez came to her with bruises and reports of abuse over the New Year’s holiday.

 

Mr. Mirkarimi is a long time fixture in the politics of the left in San Francisco, serving as an assistant to a member of the Board of Supervisors, and later himself as Supervisor. Immediately after the article, the Old Boys network of other politicians on the left, led by former Mayor Art Agnos and former Board of Supervisors President  Aaron Peskin closed ranks behind him, and began a campaign to discredit the charges. Mirkarimi, Agnos, and Peskin  all are men who have spent  most of their lives on political/government payrolls, and have supported each other as progressives. When Gavin Newsom left the Mayor position to become Lieutenant Governor, Mirkarimi  led the charge to install Agnos again as Mayor—though Agnos was not successful.

Immediately, stories appeared undercutting the domestic violence charges. Unnamed “sources close to the family” suggested that the charges were the work of right wing forces in the police department, and that the neighbor, Ms. Ivory Madison, was crazy/hysterical  and a conservative out to get Mirkarimi. A little research by independent bloggers disclosed that  Ms. Madison was a respected attorney and writer. She also had been a supporter of Mirkarimi and even hosted a fundraiser for him during his campaign for Sheriff.  But the counterattack was in full force, and appeared to succeed completely.

On Sunday January 8, Mr. Mirkarimi was sworn in as Sheriff in a very public and celebratory ceremony. Mr. Agnos  administered the oath of office, laughing and praising Mr. Mirkarimi. Peskin  attended with confidence, along with other politicians from the board of supervisors  and state legislature. Mirkarimi dismissed the charges, and called it the happiest day of his life.  He denounced the idea of domestic violence and said anything that happened was a “private matter, a family matter”.

Then last week a truly amazing response took place.  Individual women in San Francisco, including well-regarded women advocates against domestic violence, stood up and came forward to protest the matter being swept under the rug.  Ms. Beverly Upton of the Domestic Violence Consortium stated, “We are here to say enough. We are not going backwards. This is not a family matter. This is not a private matter.” She noted that nothing had been proved against Mr. Mirkarimi, but emphasized “The crime to me is the trying to silence the community, the neighbor, to roll back progress.” She added that the neighbor should be applauded  for reporting possible domestic abuse, not attacked.

Ms. Sharon Johnson, former Executive Director of the Commission on the Status of Women, came forward with a statement from the Democratic Women’s Forum, a long established organization. The Forum urged the District Attorney to seriously investigate the allegations. It also urged that  Mr. Mirkarimi should step aside from official duties during the investigation. Ms. Minouche Kandel, staff attorney for Legal Aid of the Bay Area, stated that domestic violence is not a family matter and should not be trivialized, as attempted by Mirkarimi’s allies.

Then on Friday, George Gascon the District Attorney weighed in. Gascon had been under pressure to let this case fade away.  But he did not back down. Instead he announced an indictment of  Mirkarimi on three charges of domestic violence battery of his wife, child endangerment and dissuading a witness from testifying.

Though the outcome of the Mirkarimi case is uncertain,  the social benefits already have been gained.  By the actions of the women and District Attorney Gascon, no longer will politicians such as Agnos and Mirkarimi, be as likely to try to vilify accusers or trivialize domestic violence claims. No longer will claims of “private matter” or “family matter” be so lightly used to try to halt domestic violence investigations.

Last week was a major victory for the campaign against domestic violence. It was a victory for men as much as for women, for all of us.

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The posting above was written Monday evening. Today’s morning San Francisco Chronicle brings new details of the arrogance and abuse.

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