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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At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frankly, your blog post strikes me as a bit hypocritical.

You say Olague is trying to have it both ways, but she has no dog in this fight.

Really, it is Mirkarimi who is trying to have it both ways. He wants to be held to a different standard than others in the Sheriff's department who are accused of domestic violence. He wants his "domestic violence" issue to be a "private matter, a family matter" but has been advocating the opposite when it comes to public policy.

The destructive idealism quote cuts both ways.

At 10:30 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No, it doesn't. I suspect Mirkarimi regrets the "private matter" quote, which he made while being mobbed by the paparazzi after a court hearing.

The point you seem to forget is that Mirkarimi hasn't been convicted of anything yet, and the billboard and Olague's support for it make his getting a fair hearing a little less likely, though I'm sure it's good publicity for La Casa de las Madras.

Olague tried to have it both ways by supporting the billboard on the one hand, while on the other paying lip service to the legal process. Why doesn't she just shut up until Mirkarimi's hearing is over?

At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree. Olague lacks the gravitas of prior Supe Mirkarimi, and she should shut her mouth. This is La Casa's opportunistic moment and it need not be on the back of one accused official who maintains his innocence. La Casa needs to aim their message at SFPD who neglect complainants who are people of color. The whole mighella is a teaching moment all right called 'Gotcha.'

At 2:36 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Gravitas" is not the word I would use to describe Mirkarimi, but he's entitled to a fair hearing.

Olague is the same politically as Mirkarimi. I don't know of a single issue they disagree on. Recall that Olague is one of the Gang of Four that opportunistically dumped the Green Party when the Democratic Party became fashionable again for "progressives."

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Roy Ferreira said...

Your timidly-worded blog misses the main point entirely. Even assuming Ross where convicted of domestic violence, does he deserve to have his career destroyed, to be publicly humiliated, to have his wife and child forcibly removed from him and to incur huge legal bills? And should we, the voters of San Francisco be deprived of our duly elected official on Mayor Lee's say-so? It seems in America today, public officials are held accountable only for their sexual transgressions. Far greater crimes are being committed by far worse individuals in total obscurity while we're transfixed by the public emasculation of an elected official. Wake up, San Francisco! These are misdemeanors after all, minor crimes by definition.

At 1:16 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Hard to see what your objections are to my post, since it and I agree with you entirely. And I say that as Mirkarimi's harshest critic over the years. The whole incident was inflated way out of proportion to the original alleged offense.


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