Sunday, February 12, 2012

Destructive idealism and Ross Mirkarimi

George Russell in the SF Chronicle

It's left to conservative columnist Debra Saunders to counter the lynch-mob here in Progressive Land that has convicted Ross Mirkarimi of domestic abuse before he gets his day in court:

It's one thing when a woman complains to police, then changes her mind. That did not happen here. Ditto if a woman shows up at the hospital with a broken arm, which also did not happen. If I believed that Mirkarimi did bodily harm to Lopez, I wouldn't write this. But to believe that, I have to assume that Lopez is lying or that she doesn't know what is good for her. As a lawyer who spent her career empowering women, Kandel understood my qualms. As she observed, "You don't want the criminal justice system to be one more coercive power in their lives."

That's exactly what Kathy Black, of La Casa de las Madras, wants. Her organization is paying for a billboard that uses Mirkarimi's own ill-chosen words against him: "Domestic Violence is NEVER a private matter." Okay, we take the point. Even Mirkarimi---especially Mirkarimi---surely agrees that his statement is false, not to mention ill-advised.

La Casa de las Madres
No one quarrels with the general principle, but how does this aggressive advocacy help Mirkarimi and his family get a fair hearing? Black's use of the case as a "teaching moment" doesn't make it any easier for the court and the public to achieve justice in this particular case. Abstract  principles are fine and necessary, but specific cases don't always fit neatly within statements of high-minded ideals.
Mayor Lee, who was a lawyer early in his career, understands the problem, while Supervisor Olague is still a little unclear on the concept:

Lee said he was aware of domestic violence advocates’ concerns and that he’s worked with many of the organizations for years and appreciates their work. But he said, “My public comments have to be very constrained about it because I have a legal participation in the case.” Supervisor Christina Olague said the supervisors were being “extra cautious” because of their potential role as Mirkarimi’s jury should the mayor move to expel him, but she said she was pleased by the billboard campaign. “Anything that’s calling attention to the issue of domestic violence is good, but maybe there’s been a reluctance to speak about the issue because we might have to weigh in on it,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we’re not sympathetic to it or sensitive to it.”

Olague is trying to have it both ways. Being "pleased" with the billboard---a "big teaching moment" on domestic violence---is in conflict with allowing Mirkarimi a fair hearing, since he hasn't been convicted of anything yet.

This is an example of what George Bernard Shaw called "destructive idealism": when high-minded people, in pursuit of their ideals, can do more harm than good.

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