Guardian Op-Ed: Domestic violence, a Latina feminist perspective

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By Myrna Melgar

Myrna Melgar is a Latina survivor of childhood domestic violence, a feminist, and the mother of three girls. She is a former legislative aide to Sup. Eric Mar.

Eliana Lopez is my friend. I have asked for her permission to put into words, in English, some observations, thoughts and insights reached during our many conversations these past few weeks about her experience with San Francisco's response to the allegation of domestic violence by her husband, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. We hope this will lead to a teachable moment for law enforcement and anti-domestic-violence advocates about cultural sensitivity — and will lead to honest discussions about the meaning of empowerment of women.

We hope that Eliana's experience, and our shared perspective, will prompt some analysis among feminists, advocates, and the progressive community in general about the impact of the criminalization of low-level, first offenses of domestic violence on this one immigrant woman — and the implications for all immigrant women and other women of color.

Eliana Lopez came to San Francisco from Venezuela with hope in her head and love in her heart. She decided to leave behind her beautiful city of Caracas, a successful career as an actress, and her family and friends, following the dream of creating a family and a life with a man she had fallen in love with but barely knew, Ross Mirkarimi.

Well-educated, progressive, charismatic, and artistic, she made friends easily. She and Ross seemed like a great match. Both were committed environmentalists, articulate and successful. They had a son, Theo. As they settled into domestic life, however, problems began to surface. The notoriously workaholic politician did not find his family role an easy fit. A bachelor into his late forties, Ross had trouble with the quiet demands of playing a puzzle on the floor with his toddler or having an agenda-less breakfast with his wife. Ross would not make time for Eliana's request for marriage counseling, blaming the demands of job and campaign.

On December 31, figuring that the election campaign was over and Ross would have a little breathing room, Eliana broached the subject of traveling to Venezuela with Theo. Ross's emotional reaction to her request led to the argument that has now been repeatedly documented in the press — and for which he was eventually charged.

According to Eliana, the context of what happened between them on December 31 actually started much earlier. Ross grew up as the only son of a single teenage mother of Russian Jewish descent and an absent Iranian immigrant father. Pressured by the opposition of her family to her relationship with an Iranian Muslim, Ross's mother divorced his father by the time he was five. Ross was raised on a small, nearly all-white island in New England, with no connection to his father. When he had the opportunity, Ross traveled to Chicago, where his father had remarried and built a new family with two sons. Ross's father turned him away. In Eliana's analysis, Ross's greatest fear is that his painful story with his father will be replayed again with Theo.

Eliana's version of what happened next has never wavered. She went to her neighbor Ivory Madison, as opposed to anyone else, because she thought Ivory was a lawyer and could advise her if her troubles with her husband resulted in divorce. Documenting Ross's reaction to her request to take Theo abroad would be ammunition — targeting his greatest fear. Making the video was Madison's idea, and Eliana agreed to it, thinking that it would be useful to her if a custody dispute ensued. But in Eliana's mind, the video was her property, her story.

Eliana insisted that Ivory did not have her permission to share the video or the story with anyone, that she was not in any danger, and that she was working on her marriage with Ross. Unbeknownst to Eliana, by the time Ivory called the police, she had already shared the story with Phil Bronstein, then the editor at large of Hearst Newspapers, the publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Let's stop for a moment to consider the question of the empowerment of women. The disempowerment of Eliana began on a very small level when her husband grabbed her by the arm during an argument. It was exponentially magnified by the neighbor in whom she confided, who decided that Eliana's strongly held desire to handle her problems with her husband herself was inconsequential. The disempowerment of Eliana was then magnified again and again, by the police, the press, the district attorney, and finally even anti-domestic-violence advocates.

How did it come to be that a system that was intended to empower women has evolved into a system that disempowers them so completely?

Unquestionably, there are women in deeply abusive relationships who need assistance getting out, who may not be able to initiate an escape on their own. Eliana's relationship with Ross did not even come close to that standard. Yet in the eyes of Ivory Madison, Phil Bronstein, District Attorney George Gascon, and even the Director of La Casa de las Madres, once her husband had grabbed her arm, Eliana was simply no longer competent and her wishes were irrelevant.

In other words, an action done by a man, over which a woman has no control whatsoever, renders the woman incompetent and irrelevant, and empowers a long list of people — most of whom are male — to make decisions on this woman's behalf, against her consistent and fervently expressed wishes. No one in the entire chain of people who made decisions on Eliana's behalf offered her any help — besides prosecuting her husband.

Eliana was only consulted by the district attorney in the context of seeking her cooperation in relation to the criminal charges against her husband. Eliana never gave her input or assessment in the situation, was never consulted about the plea agreement.

Now the disempowerment of Eliana has taken an even more sinister twist. In an opinion piece published in the Chronicle, Ivory Madison's husband, Abraham Mertens, charged Eliana with intimidation for allegedly pressuring his wife and himself to destroy the video that Ivory conceived and recorded of Eliana's moment of distress. The same day, Mayor Ed Lee announced that he was suspending Ross as sheriff, and the charges, as written up by the City Attorney, included the Mertens accusation. This had the effect of silencing and disempowering Eliana — but this time, she is being threatened with criminal prosecution. The victim has somehow become the criminal.

Mertens, the mayor, the D.A., the city attorney, and the newspaper editor are all men. All men acting on behalf of a very educated and articulate woman who has repeatedly, passionately, asked them to give her her voice back. And for that they are threatening to criminally prosecute her.

Kathy Black, the director of La Casa de las Madres, called Eliana twice. At the same time, Black and other domestic violence advocates were calling on Ross to step down, raising money to put up billboards, and mobilizing for the anti-Ross campaign, trying him in the press. Seeing all this, Eliana never trusted Black's motives and never took the call. Had Eliana thought assistance would be available her and to Ross without a threat to her family and livelihood, this all would have been a very different story.

During Ross's initial preliminary hearing, Eliana Lopez famously told judge Susan Breall "this idea that I am this poor little immigrant is insulting, it's a little racist." And yet, what middle class, successful, educated Eliana was exposed to is exactly what we as a city have forced victims of domestic violence to face by our emphasis on criminal prosecution.

In San Francisco, we concentrate on saving victims from domestic violence situations. Our efforts in communities of color, immigrant communities, and teens is geared to make sure that victims get away from their abusers.

It's inarguable that women in dangerous situations need to be provided options to get out. But concentrating on these alone — rather than on the array of options that are needed in less severe cases — is the equivalent of treating disease at the emergency room. In fact, this approach undermines prevention efforts because it puts women in the position of choosing between seeking help through counseling and therapy to modify the behavior of their partners — or exposing them to criminal prosecution. It has the unfortunate outcome of disempowering women, particularly low-income immigrant women and women of color, whose economic realities, position in society, and relationship to law enforcement both real and perceived is very different than for white middle-class women.

It's not hard to see that, for immigrant women and women of color, exposure to law enforcement is perceived as dangerous. Many immigrants fear law enforcement based on their experiences with repressive regimes in their own countries. In the past couple of years, the mandatory referral to federal immigration authorities has created panic and fear of police in immigrant communities across America. Immigrant women, already on the edge economically, face the real threat of the loss of their partner's income if the partner is accused of a crime and the boss finds out. Many black women understandably doubt the criminal justice system's capacity to treat black men charged with any crime.

So here is the challenge to domestic violence advocates and progressive folks who care about women: A more progressive approach to Eliana and Ross's particular situation, and to domestic violence in general, would be to work on emphasizing early, non-law enforcement intervention and the prevention of violence against women in addition to the necessary work of extricating women from dangerous situations.

Professor Laureen Snider at Queens University in Ontario has argued that criminalization is a flawed strategy for dealing with violence against women. Snider argues that feminists and progressives have misidentified social control with police/governmental control. In other words, we are substituting one oppressor for another — and glossing over the fact that in the judicial system, poor people of color fare worse than white middle-class people. We have punted on the hard work education, and of shaping and reshaping men's definitions of masculinity and violence, of the social acceptance of the subjugation of women, of violence against children. We have chosen to define success in the fight against domestic violence by women saved from horrible situations and incarceration rates for their abusers — rather than doing the difficult work of community and individual change necessary to prevent violence from happening in the first place.

Putting up billboards in Spanish telling women that domestic violence is never a private matter might make people feel like they are doing something useful, but it will do nothing to help Eliana, and it will do very little to prevent domestic violence against women in the Spanish-speaking community.

My own experience with the community's response to domestic violence was very different from Eliana's. My father was physically abusive. The most violent period of my life was during high school in the 1980's, shortly after we had immigrated to the United States from war-torn El Salvador. Our economic realities and shaky legal situation placed a level of stress on our family that made violence an almost daily occurrence.

I ran away from home, and eventually got connected with the services offered through the Redwood City YMCA. We entered family counseling, and the intervention was successful — my father was able to stop his violent behavior and our family survived. Had the police intervened, my father would have likely been charged, very possibly deported, and the whole family would have been sent back to El Salvador — back to the civil war.

In the case of my family, in which violence was a severe, everyday occurrence, there was a successful intervention. In Eliana's case, which was limited to her husband too forcefully grabbing her arm, the family was destroyed and it will take years before the victim and her child will be able to (maybe) put their lives back together.

I challenge the progressive community and anti-violence advocates to reexamine this criminalization-heavy approach and its impact on my friend Eliana's family, but also to examine how it affects all victims of domestic violence in San Francisco, particularly women in immigrant communities and women of color who rightfully have a distrustful relationship with law enforcement. Although it might make some feel better, all of this energy and effort spent demanding Ross Mirkarimi's resignation only serves to reinforce the dominant model of criminalization — to make an example out of him. It won't help Eliana, and it won't help people suffering from violence in their intimate relationships.

Myrna Melgar is Latina survivor of childhood domestic violence, a feminist, and a mother of three girls. She is a former legislative aide to Sup. Eric Mar.

 

Comments

Thank you very much Myrna for writing such a level headed and effective analysis of the case. I agree with your assessment and recommendation. No surprise that this great assessment did not come from the corporate owned mainstream media. Thanks again to you and Bay Guardian.

Posted by Magic on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 4:08 pm

This is such an important piece. As an advocate for immigrant domestic violence survivors and other communities of color dealing with domestic (and non domestic) violence, it's been hard to talk about the limitations of a law enforcement dependent solution. And the need to give and not take away the power of the survivor/complainant et al. Myrna tastefully and with facts and not emotion (although emotion is good and warranted, too) makes the case not only questioning the law enforcement first and early model, but also the assumptions and tactics of otherwise well-meaning anti-domestic violence advocates.Thank you for this important piece, I have saved it to share with others when I try to make these difficult points. Thank you in particular for sharing your own story, and how and why it turned out differently.

Posted by Guest Anita on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

The problem was not handled properly. Thanks Nancy for your clarification.
A number of people have exploited the situation and made it a disaster for the Mirkarimi family.
The powers in San Francisco did not want Mirkarimi for Sheriff.

Posted by Dr. Mohammad Ala on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

the injustice?

It's a massive conflict of interest to have a guy on probation running the probation service. And a guy guilty of false imprisonment in charge of imprisoning others. You dig?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

You bring up a very good point the real problem was never addressed, and I agree that life as they new it is over. It was mishandled from both sides from day one. Media today does not report straight forward news it has to be sensationalized to sell. Ross hired lawyers and handled it exactly like a politician because of what was at stake. My question is what about the other alleged instances of verbal threats and abuse Eliana referred to In the tape? You don't address those in your Op-Ed. Unfortunately we will never know the complete story from either side.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

People I barely know who confess all of their problems to me. The confessional is an epidemic in our society.

That said, I like my neighbors a lot. But I would never ever tell any of them that I was having problems with my marriage, let alone my husband grabbing my arm. This kind of information is for your closest friend who you can trust completely. I realize Eliana was away from her support group in Venezuela but there is always the phone.

She needs to take responsibility for making a very poor decision in confiding with someone she does not know well.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

Even having read Myrna's essay, I can't subscribe to the notion that Eliana Lopez has been "disempowered" by anyone except for her husband.

Please forgive me for expressing a contrarian viewpoint, but having it published in the Guardian didn't help support its veracity or objectivity. I certainly respect the perspective that Myrna has chosen to espouse in this case, and it's a perspective that deserves consideration, but it's difficult to take seriously the idea that a woman in Eliana's circumstances is being manipulated by the media when both her professional and family lives (as former actress and as wife of a high-profile San Francisco progressive politician) are and have been lived fully, willingly and mindfully beneath the microscope of the public eye.

By publishing a victim's-friend's-account of the situation that endeavors to alter the story of a politician's criminal behavior and turn it into a story of feminist disempowerment, the Guardian is clearly advancing its own agenda of political advocacy, disguised as a gender-sensitive social tract.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

Exactly.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 7:02 pm

Well put. This is propaganda of a different irk. This is manipulation of a different fabric. It is - clearly OPINION. Not fact.

Posted by Guest4 on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

When I was a young cop in the late 70's, you'd handle a "domestic squabble" by separating the couple, handing out some counseling service phone numbers, and dropping Dad off at his buddy's house to sleep it off. Then you hoped you wouldn't get called back for the rest of the shift - about 50% of the time you were. You couldn't make an arrest for misdemeanor battery unless one of the parties would make a citizen's arrest or unless the injuries were so severe that it elevated to a felony. I vividly remember responding to a regular customer's home to find the wife being loaded into an ambulance with a severely broken leg. She swore to God that she fell down the stairs and her husband had nothing to do with it. I convinced her that maybe next time she wouldn't be so lucky and she gave up Pops and we took him to jail.

Some would argue that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, but how many women are alive today because of the DV laws and protocols that exist now? All the counseling in the world does no good if you don't attend it, complete it or aren't motivated to change your behavior. The only thing I have seen that breaks the cycle of violence is an arrest and the involvement of the courts. The only way to ensure an abuser goes to counseling is when a court orders it and probation is there to make sure it happens - or the abuser goes to jail. Believe it or not, Mirkarimi's case, its handling and adjudication are very typical for a low-level domestic violence incident. It really is about providing sevices to the abuser, the victim and the family. Those services were available to Eliana, but she chose (I'm sure on the advice of her attorneys) to sequester herself. In fact, I've never seen a victim, even an uncooperative one (which is also common) obtain an attorney to try to quash the case against her abuser.

If Mirkarimi would have thrown himself on his sword at the very beginning, he would have received the same deal. I don't know if that would have spared him from removal from office, but it certainly would have spared him, his family and this city a lot of heartache.

Lastly, for all those who are castigating Ivory Madison you need to remember one thing: Mirkarimi pleaded guilty - he did it. My belief is that her delay in reporting, and consultation with Bronstein, was due to her agonizing over what to do. She didn't ask to be placed in that situation - it was thrust upon her. She absolutely did the right thing. She did what you would hope your neighbor would do. Who knows, maybe she saved Eliana from being that lady with the broken leg?

Posted by Retired Cop on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

Abusers will continue unless a greater authority comes on the scene. That is what happened here and allowed Lopez to take her son back to her home country.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 7:01 pm

This is the best post I have seen.

My husband, now my ex-husband, went to jail for 6 months for DV. I am able to speak from the perspective of a victim. My case wasn't much worse than this case.

Like Eliana, I confided in a few friends regarding my marriage and my fears. Unlike Eliana, no one interfered with the way I wanted to handle my situation. I wanted to save my marriage. People were willing to let me try. Some of the things I tried that failed included counseling, talking with our pastor, urging my ex to seek treatment for depression, and me trying to change myself to please my ex more. None of these strategies worked and the DV escalated slowly. My ex breaking things became him throwing things became him grabbing me, became him pushing and shoving me, became him throwing and pinning me and making veiled death threats. He never reached punching, but I was scared for my life when I called the police, finally, after my five year old tried to stop my ex from assaulting me.

Based on my personal experience, I am convinced that arrest and prosecution is necessary in stopping DV from escalating for all the reasons the cop listed here. I know that I tried everything in the book to stop the problem myself, and failed.

I loved my ex and I can't help but wonder if maybe we would have made our marriage work if someone had intervened earlier by calling the police and forcing my husband to face his abusive behaviors. Maybe we could have saved our marriage. I pity Eliana and Ross and their child in this situation, but as bad as this may be, it may actually be better than what would have happened if Ivory did nothing.

Posted by Georgia on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

His kid will grow up trying to make sense of the constant outrage from him and the placating of the wife.

The abusive actions is not just between husband and wife, it includes a kid who is growing up around, lies. excuses, and rationalisations. Thus the situation travels from generation to generation.

Also as you probably know, changing strategies just empowers the abuser in a different way.

Posted by Matlock on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 7:53 pm

Let's start by saying that this little nugget is complete horseshit:

"Those services were available to Eliana, but she chose (I'm sure on the advice of her attorneys) to sequester herself. In fact, I've never seen a victim, even an uncooperative one (which is also common) obtain an attorney to try to quash the case against her abuser."

As a matter of fact, I am a domestic violence survivor, and I did just that. The perpetrator was my father. I had my younger brother call the cops as he was attacking me. The cops needed to be called at that moment. But it didn't need to be made into a federal case (even though that incident was much more severe than a bruised arm). All I really needed was a restraining order for a few days while I gathered my stuff and went elsewhere. I don't want to go into much detail, but given my family situation, sending my father to jail would have been extremely counterproductive.

Unfortunately, the legal system doesn't do "nuance" very well, and that's exactly what they wanted to do. So I hired a lawyer to help squash the criminal case. I heard it's a very common thing. And given that I was an "uncooperative witness," the case was successfully and easily quashed on the stage of the prelimary hearing, even though the police had noted marks on my face when they arrested him. Oh, and incidentally, when the cops came to the door, he became so enraged that he lunged at me, and two cops had to restrain him as he violently resisted arrest. Even so, with the aid of an attorney, we made the criminal case go away. The domestic violence issue was eventually solved without any assitance from law enforcement.

There are a couple of takeaway points from this story-
1. Even in cases of REAL domestic violence (as opposed to an arm grabbing -give me a fricking break!), EVEN with the added complication of resisting arrest (violently I may add, not the bullshit "resisting arrest" charges tacked on to just about every protester these days), it's still pretty routine to toss out a case where the victim doesn't file a complaint. Which makes Ross's case unusual in the extreme.
2. There certainly is a "one size fits all" approach in the legal system. Either bust and lock up, or do nothing. The cops and DAs don't recognize any in-between, which is a damn shame because most families affected by domestic violence need that nuanced approach.

And while we're on the subject of doing nothing, if you're really a retired cop, you may be familiar with the epidemic of domestic violence within your own ranks. Retired Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper discussed it in his book "Breaking Rank," and numerous studies confirm that cops are among the WORST domestic violence offenders.

And yet, how many of these guys get caught and prosecuted? Precious few, if any, as I'm sure you well know. And why is that, "Retired Cop?" I'll tell you why. It's because YOUR police unions circle the wagons whenever one of your own is charged, and frankly DAs usually want to sweep it under the rug anyway, because you're all part of that law enforcement "family." But not with Ross, of course. Oh no! This is the one and only time in my life when I've seen the legal system throw the book at a cop this way. Because Ross isn't really "one of your own," isn't that right?

So please, spare us all your sanctimonious bleating about caring for domestic violence victims and holding law enforcement to high standards. Your hypocrisy is sickeningly transparent.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 10:07 pm

First off, you don't know much about domestic violence if you start your post by pronouncing what is "real" domestic violence and what isn't. The degree of physical injury involved has NOTHING to do with it.

Second, no cops aren't there to do "nuance" as you term it. Get it? They got thousands of calls for DV and they do not have time to conduct an investigation to determine the nuances of every case. That is why DV laws have developed to where they are.

Third, why are you so angry with this cop? He generally speaks the truth. Of course, I'm speaking as a DV survivor and a volunteer with an advocacy group who has sat through hundreds of DV support groups. Maybe the cop lunged at you because of the attitude you display here. Maybe you weren't a victim after all, but a perpetrator who needs anger management as well. There are classes for women as well as men in this. I can make a recommendation if you need it.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2012 @ 10:54 pm

Totally realistic and true. Thanks for writing the truth. Ivory Madison was doing a heroic act and threw herself into a glaring public arena - only to be sure that what she now knew would not haunt her the rest of her life if the next episode was Eliana's last episode of a "private family matter"...

Posted by Guest4 on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

This comment refers to Georgia's remarks.

Posted by Guest4 on Mar. 30, 2012 @ 11:29 am

...with their over-the-top, go for the jugular approach. They made it a political issue, and by doing that forgot how to support Eliana, her son, and even the husband and father, i.e. Mirkarimi. They took out billboards and held rallies on City Hall steps over a BRUISE on her arm, for heaven's sake. I have been a feminist man all my adult life, have volunteered for DV groups and donated money, and I have never seen the kind of over-the-top approach that the local SF DV community launched. And here's the worst kind of proof of how much they have hurt the issue of DV: if I thought my neighbor was subject to DV in her home, I would be much less inclined to report it to either the police or DV advocates, after watching the destructive path they put the Mirkarimi family through. Sure, if it was clearly a very violent situation, I would report it, but things are seldom that black and white. So I would instead make my own judgement about how to handle it because I would know that, at least in SF, if you bring in the cops and the DV professionals, things could rapidly spin out of control and actually HURT the family and the chances of an appropriate intervention.

Anti-DV advocates-- you have LOST your sense of balance and professionalism, and should be ashamed of yourselves. We expect the cops and DA to go rogue; we don't expect that of DV advocates.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

Holy shit, lol.

Just to be clear, your stance is: Anti-domestic violence advocates disempower women, the Cuban DA is a racist, the Chinese Mayor is a racist, reporting suspected wife beaters is for nosy people and public opinion doesn't matter when 72% of residents want an elected official to resign.

Good luck with that....

Posted by Longtime Lurker on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

lol

it really doesn't sound very "Progressive", does it?

Posted by RamRod on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

It's silly season when so-called progressives agree with Debra Saunders. It ought to give everyone pause.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 9:06 pm

They have not hurt this case. Melgar has done so by putting them on trial, instead of the people who created this situation.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

I guess it never ends with the Alice-in-Wonderland opinions of the so-called "progressives" (and I don't think there has ever been a bigger misnomer).

The purpose of the criminal justice system is not about "empowering victims," rather it is about holding criminal defendants accountable for the crimes they commit against the community, and we as a society have decided that crimes of violence are crimes against the community. But, I know words like "accountability" and "personal responsibility" are indeed foreign concepts to the progressives. Though, they do seem to understand "punishment" and "retribution" as it applies to anyone who dares to cross their political agenda.

Living in SF, I have learned to tune out a lot of nonsense and follow common sense, but I realize that "common sense" is also a foreign word to most progressives. So, here is some common sense: If you don't want to get the criminal justice system involved in your life, then (A) do not commit a crime, like abusing your spouse--you wouldn't rough up a stranger on the street, so don't rough up your spouse just because you are having a bad hair day or because you have unresolved issues with your absent Iranian immigrant father, and (B) if you are a victim who apparently enjoys being a victim, as we are told Eliana does, then do not report a crime, like being roughed up by your spouse, instead go to your "feminist, mother of three" friend or a so-called "progressive" victim advocate, who will make you feel empowered while supporting your decision to stay in an abusive situation.

Also, I have to assume Eliana is at least a reasonably intelligent women, so I doubt she could have been so utterly stupid to think her "friend," who apparently had some third-rate law degree but never took the bar, was a practicing attorney. If she didn't know what her neighbor's profession was, then apparently she was not such a good friend that she should have not been going to her seeking advice on possible divorce proceedings.

I am so tired of people making excuses for Ross Mirkarimi. And, you know they are only doing it because he is a self-proclaimed "progressive" elected to political office. Yes, the progressives are so morally bankrupt that they will defend anyone for anything, so long as they think it will further their political agenda. I am the farthest thing from a Republican, but I would be willing to be good money that had Mr. Mirkarimi been a conservative Republican somehow miraculously elected to office in SF who had roughed up his wife, the same progressives pleading for understanding and sympathy would instead by calling to have his head served up on a platter.

Myrna got one thing right. It is not about Eliana or Theo. It is about the progressives unabashed desire to protect their political power as they circle their wagons around one of their own, regardless of what he has done.

Posted by Chris on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 6:10 pm

BTW: Melgar was the former legislative aide to SF BOS Eric Mar and worked at City Hall.

Ms. Melgar, thanks for writing this editorial. It seems Murphy's law has been working against Ross and Eliana in every way with the help of their neighbors, Phil Bronstein, Willie Brown and Ed Lee.

I have never seen so many negative attack headline articles on the frontpages of the SF Chronicle against anyone. Ross Mirkarimi has gotten more attack news stories against him than the worst of the worst criminal offenders. Phil Bronstein is directing all of this I think to a large degree and he and Willie Brown who writes a regular column both appear to have some kind of major ax to grind against Mirkarimi.

It is shocking that despite a short minute long video that was turned as evidence against Eliana's wishes by her well meaning neighbor, no one has bothered to ask the wife, Eliana, what she wants to do. This case is on auto-pilot.

The SF Chronicle has to restrain itself from publishing further frontpage articles in bold that say "RESIGN NOW" everyday which is essentially the same message they've been publishing since the very beginning.

The question is: does one small bruise on a woman's bicep conclusive evidence that a publically elected official can no longer serve in an official capacity?

What about Dick Cheney who "accidentally" shot a friend of his in the face?

Posted by Katie on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

You are hurting people by spreading disinformation. Yeah, Dick Cheney shooting is completely equal to domestic violence. Read much?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

That holds much more interest to me than Mirkarimi's ongoing ego problems, maybe you can talk the Bay Guardian into sending a reporter to cover that case. Instead whining about boss Ross.

Posted by Matlock on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

Unbelievable that Ms. Lopez through Melgar would choose to set back hard-fought breakthroughs in domestic violence for her own personal gain. As a feminist, domestic violence SURVIVOR and a Latina (by birth father took off), I am appalled that this was written and printed by the Bay Guardian. IF there is anything to come out of this, it would be educating the public about DV which is what the billboard were doing. (As anyone who has been in the DV advocacy community is well aware). The billboard was an attempt to deter the myth of privacy that Sheriff Mirkarimi was propagating. Would we allow this for any other issue? A gay issue, for instance?

Your premise that the billboard did nothing for Lopez is false because it wasn't put up for her benefit - it was put up to counteract the damage that was done when the sheriff of SF says that a physical altercation with his wife in which there is a great imbalance of power and she ends up bruised, is a "private matter." Whatever happened that night and whatever they were "working on," just the utterance of this old myth is appalling. Again, would we accept that with any other issue?

Melgar says that consequences should not be criminal for abusers, but in the North Bay anger management program I am familiar with, the men's program specifically states that abusers will often continue until "a greater authority comes onto the scene" - that authority being law enforcement because too many friends and family believe it is a "private matter" between the two or it's "just an argument." As you can see in this case, even Melgar wasn't able to talk to her friend about it or help the situation even though she says she is a 1)friend, 2)feminist and 3)familiar with family counseling.

The only thing that would catch the attention of an abuser with the power and authority of sheriff or, say, a council member, would be others of such power and authority. You can see that is what happened in this case as Mr. Mirkarimi exhibited this behavior in earlier relationships without any consequence so he continued the behavior.

Melgar's assertion that there needs to be a "more progressive approach" is erroneous because many programs have already done this. Most defendants convicted of DV are required to attend anger management programs already and those programs do outline the underlying causes of DV with a discussion of the gender stereotypes and socialization involved. Many organizations have even dropped names that reflect assistance for only one gender or imply only heterosexual relationships to names that include the umbrella of services for all that they now provide.

Your claim that Lopez was "disempowered" seems quite untenable. Lopez had her own lawyer, something many of us DV victims didn't have, and this lawyer was a woman. Her lawyer even called a press conference on her behalf and when Ms. Lopez did not show up, she spoke for her. I can't remember any DV victim getting such a platform.

Melgar ignores the fact that It is routine for law enforcement to prosecute in spite of the victims attempts to rescind testimony because of the nature of DV itself. If you had any experience with DV advocacy, you would know this.

Melgar states only "men [are] acting on behalf of a very educated and articulate woman who has repeatedly, passionately, asked them to give her her voice back." Again, Lopez was able to retain her very own lawyer who happened to be a woman and who was allowed to present arguments on her behalf re: the video evidence and the "I thought she was my lawyer defense." Lopez does not seem like a woman without a voice and has received far more legal representation than most DV victims.

Melgar's summary of the incident is that it was "Ross's emotional reaction to her request." I think there are great many defendant's who would chalk up their behavior to the exact same reason.

Melgar's assessment that "Ross grew up as the only son of a single teenage mother" and an "absent father" is not, I hope, a defense of his actions. I, too, have the same situation, but since I am a DV victim, have found it all the more reason to instill in my son a respect for women.

A lot of people are "working on their marriage" and it doesn't result in this.

Instead of indicting law enforcement and challenging progressives, I challenge Ms. Melgar to allow this situation to play out privately, especially if she thinks it is "private matter" and their marriage simply needs "work". Keep it private and do not write pieces like this that put the DV community on trial instead of the players involved. You are doing a great disservice to victims of DV like me by blaming those who try and help us.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 6:59 pm

+1, not much I can add to this.

Other than too say that I wish this wasn't a position the SFBG was promoting. And if they're not promoting it and merely publicizing it I apologize, but it feels like they're taking this stance. Disappointed.

Posted by Phillip on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 10:20 pm

I am also a Latina and a dv survivor, and you do not speak for me. In my experience, it was when only the police got involved that things really spun out of control in my life. As with Eliana, no one asked what I really needed in the way of intervention or support. My family and I ended up as just another casualty of a cold, impersonal and unjust system, where "one size fits all". What you are overlooking is that this is a common experience for many women of color.

A number of your claims are open to dispute, but one in particular leaped out at me. You said, "You can see that is what happened in this case as Mr. Mirkarimi exhibited this behavior in earlier relationships without any consequence so he continued the behavior."
Christina Flores was with Ross a short time, and she obviously had an ax to grind, whereas Evelyn Nieves, a highly professional and credible person, lived with Ross for over eight years. Nieves said that Ross was never remotely abusive in all the time she lived with him. In fact, he preferred to walk away from an argument rather than get into a fight. Who do you think is more trustworthy and reliable? I'd go with Ms. Nieves any day.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

But there is a difference, I educated myself on DV and have volunteered with an advocacy organization for years. I see that you did not do this so I would recommend a couple of books - Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them and the Verbally Abusive Relationship.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2012 @ 11:01 pm

I voted for Mirkarimi, against my better judgment. And this is where it has gotten the cause of good government and fairness -- a scandal in which the duly elected sheriff gets himself in quite a legal pickle. But he is so despised that the powers that be are doing everything they can that seems legal to force him out of us, including subverting the will of the voters. (Spare me the rhetoric about him being progressive, Mirkarimi is despised because he is awful -- this would not be happening if Jeff Adachi, Matt Gonzalez, Tom Ammiano, David Campos or any other progressive had been elected to this position.) Because I think the will of the voters is being usurped, I suddenly find myself alining myself with the progressives.

I also agree with Retired Cop that Ivory Madison figured out she had something radioactive and did not know what to do with it. She called friends for advice, and finally decided to call the police. After all, what would you have done? Realizing what you had in your possession and what would happen if it came out after Mirkarimi's swearing in, wouldn't you decide soon enough to call the police also?

And let's look at the bruise. No, one bruise does not make someone a batterer. But in the context of habitual verbal abuse, it may. Ross Mirkarimi is notorious for raging at people and being a bully. That is why is despised. It is not hard for me to imagine him raging at Eliana and soon enough, raging at their little boy. It happens all the time. Why aren't more publications talking about this?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 7:02 pm

A PRIVATE, court-ordered session with a psychologist experienced with domestic abuse could have simply determined whether or not Eliana Lopez was/is "being controlled" and "imprisoned" in her marriage with Ross Mirkarimi.

This Roman spectacle has not been perpetuated for the benefit of Eliana Lopez or her child.

Altruistic claims notwithstanding.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 8:58 pm

Using violence against anyone, unless it is used legitimately in self-defense is illegal. If I grabbed someone on the street and roughed them up, I would be charged with assault and prosecuted. I would not have some apologist write a sad story about my distant immigrant father or how the stranger I grabbed in the street should have been given an "opportunity for empowerment," or some other BS like that. No, I would be prosecuted, and if convicted or I accepted a plea, then I would be punished accordingly.

There is no difference with using violence against a so-called "loved one" or against a stranger, except for some reason, if you are violent with a stranger people say you are a psycho, but if you are violent with a spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend/lover/child, then people say you are "troubled" and it is a "private matter."

At the end of the day, Ross Mirkarimi basically just got court-ordered anger management and probation. He was not sent to prison for "years," or any other sort of nonsense some people have posted. His sentence was hardly a punishment. And, had he plead from the beginning, he probably would have got off even easier. Mr. Mirkarimi and his loud-mouth wife chose to make this into a spectacle. It could have been settled a long time ago with a quiet plea bargain, or it would not have even gone to court had Eliana decided not to run off to a neighbor she apparently didn't even know that well so she could plot a divorce strategy.

Once it became a criminal matter, Eliana became irrelevant. Civil cases are titled Mr. So-and-So vs. Ms. So-and-So, but criminal cases are titled the People vs. Mr. X. The reason the word "People" is in the criminal case name is because a crime is considered an offense against society, not a way to "empower" the victim, nor a way to push some political agenda, nor some method to make everyone feel good, but rather a process to hold individuals accountable for violating societal rules and punish them accordingly.

If you want altruism, then volunteer at a charitable organization. If you want "empowerment," then go to therapy. The criminal justice system is not concerned with either altruism or empowerment, it exists solely to punish people for breaking rules.

Hopefully now that Ross Mirkarimi has admitted guilt, he can just step down from his $200,000 a year taxpayer financed job, and go back to whatever private work he did before getting elected (I believe he used to be a press spokesman before he started sucking off the public teat). Then, he and his wife can decide about what they want to do next. Maybe, they can move to Venezuela where Eliana seems to have a fabulous life, or whatever. The only person dragging this issue out at this point is Ross because he wants to hang on to his $200,000 a year salary from the taxpayers.

Posted by Chris on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 9:50 pm

Cops dismiss use of force all the time under the aegis of mutual combat even when there is a complaint that force had to be used to contest assault.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 9:07 am

Marcos,

There has been absolutely no allegation that Eliana engaged in combat with Ross. By all accounts, he grabbed her because he was annoyed with her, and no the DA (not the cops) would not dismiss a case based on "mutual combat" were none has occurred.

If you want to be an apologist for violence, then be one. Or better yet, if you want to admit that your politics trump any general ethical or moral implications, then just say it, and we can at least have an honest discussion.

If Ross Mirkarimi were a conservative Republican who did the EXACT same thing as he admitted to in this situation, would you be clamoring to his defense? Would you say there was a "witch hunt?" Would you say that DV advocates "conspire against men?" Would you be outraged if Mayor Lee moved to have him dismissed from his position? I ask because this is all the crap I have heard coming from the so-called "progressive" base.

In other words, do you honestly believe that domestic violence should be a "private matter," or is all this huffing and puffing simply because Ross happens to subscribe to your political ideology.

Posted by Chris on Mar. 30, 2012 @ 9:42 am

I basically agree with most of this, but Ross should have made a point of not apologizing, but saying very publicly all the following:

1. Ivory Madison is a snake.

2. Gascon is an egomaniac, and the whole office is arrogant beyond belief.

3. They were hurting his family, not helping it, and this was not just a matter of him being Sheriff, it would be true no matter who he was.

4. The fact a felony prosecution could go forward when there was no complainant means hate filled zealots are in charge of the courts and law enforcement, and he was not going to knuckle under to them, and was going to seek wide ranging reform of the entire crazy system.

5. And he should have kept talking, accusing all the players of misconduct every time he had a microphone put in front of him.

6. Should have openly defied the restraining order to test the constitutionality of third parties keeping two consenting adults apart.

In other words, given all the meddlers the finger.

But he di the opposite, and except for fighting in court, basically passively took all the worst of them threw at him. So, he acquiesced in his own destruction, and they destroyed him, because he would not reject the Domestic Violence "progressive" party line. Now it's mostly too late.

Posted by Steve White on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

Fuuuuuuuuuuuck you.

Loving it. That's really all I want to say at this point. Every time I'm getting ready to feel sorry for you fringetards, you post some new bullshit. The current line is apparently that domestic violence is usually ok and should be examined on a case by case basis.

zOMfucKINGod do you realize you guys have completely gone off the edge???

Ok, for real, YOU ALL SOUND FUCKING CRAZY AS BALLZ. Like, get therapy. Or a new city - because your time here in SF is done.

#Who's City? NOT YOUR FUCKING CITY *EVER AGAIN* thank Ross for bringing you down, LOVES IT

Posted by Sambo on Mar. 28, 2012 @ 10:33 pm

"advise", he'd be sitting and sweating in his own jail now, with his employees bringing him baloney sandwiches.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 5:44 am

Had Ross defied the keep away order, Ed Lee would have had legal recourse to suspend and remove him from office.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 10:45 am

But anyone transgressing a TRO risks a trip to the county jail and having his probation revoked. When probation is revoked, a jail term of one third of the length of the probation is typically given which, in Ross's case would be the maximum one year term that is allowed for County Jail.

I doubt he'd be managing the jails from jail, do you?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 10:57 am

The jury is out on whether Lee's recourse to suspend Ross was legal or not.

We can probably presuppose that Kathleen Feinsten's San Francisco Superior Court bench will do whatever corporate power desires, but the higher appellate bench is another matter entirely.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 11:45 am

It's possible that if he spends enough he can throw a few wrenches in the works but there is no question that Lee had sufficient power and legal authority to do what he did.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

The Superior and Appellate Courts have the power to review and check the actions of the executive and they have yet to opine on the matter of whether what Lee did was legal or not. Dennis Herrera has a crappy record before the judiciary when ordered to take imprudent actions by political pressure, witness same sex marriage, the bicycle plan, etc.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

Lee was fully within his legal rights to remove Ross from office, otherwise Ross would still be at 850 instead of sitting at home. Over 70% of voters do not think the guy in charge of probation should be on probation himself.

If and when Ross completes his probation, he can apply to have his conviction expunged under the PD's Clean Slate Program. At that time, he could move to get his job back.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

There is a live case before the SF Superior Court contesting Lee's decision thus the legality of the bill of removal is currently unsettled. Our thoughts on the substance of the case are therefore irrelevant now.

The lodging of a lawsuit changes reality and introduces uncertainty to Lee's action irrespective of what your opinion is on the underlying matter.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

result of any future appeals. I merely stated the obvious fact that Lee could remove Ross from office. If that were not true, Ross would still be at 850. He isn't.

I personally doubt that the decision will be revoked, given both Ross's appalling behavior, the obvious conflicts of interest that would exist were he to be reinstated and the overwhelming will of the people.

But if Ross wants to squander his money on endless futile fights rather than support his family, then that's his choice. His wife has seemingly already made hers.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

Shyeah, this is going the Supreme Court. *eyeroll*

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

"Corporate power." Gimme a break. Not everything is framable as the valiant little progressives shrieking truth to power, you know.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 9:08 pm
Posted by marcos on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 10:35 pm

There's no math to do.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2012 @ 11:10 pm