Gascón's challenge to Mirkarimi belies his own official shortcomings

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George Gascón, shown here in January when he announced charges against Mirkarimi, is still making demands.
Steven T. Jones

The backlash against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi's reinstatement by those who oppose him has often been biting and bitter – an indicator that coming together around real solutions to domestic violence, something most supervisors pledged, could still be difficult – but the most hypocritical reaction came yesterday from District Attorney George Gascón.

“Ross is now reinstated as our Sheriff and I accept that. What I will not accept is any compromise of public safety as a result of his reinstatement. Ross Mirkarimi is on probation in this county for a crime of domestic violence. He is, at a minimum, incapable of adequately performing the functions of his office that relate to crimes of domestic violence,” Gascón said in a public statement, calling for Mirkarimi to “wall himself off” from all domestic violence programs and inmates and hire an independent special administrator to oversee them.

Gascón didn't explain why he believes Mirkarimi can't oversee these functions, although that's been a common refrain among Mirkarimi's critics, almost an article of faith that to them needs no explanation. I understand the sentiment, but as a practical matter, it still doesn't make sense to me (I'd welcome comments that could offer insights or explanation). I've also posed that and other questions to both Gascón and his spokesperson, Stephanie Ong Stillman, and I'll include an update when I hear back.

Maybe the issue is a conflict of interest, the belief that Mirkarimi will either be too easy or too hard on domestic violence inmates or programs, which seems to be stretch. But if that's the case, Gascón should get off his high horse. Gascón was the police chief when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed him as DA, and there were many voices in the community who questioned such an unconventional move, one that raised obvious questions about whether Gascón could be objective about cases of police abuse, evidence tampering, or assorted other cases in which he would be called upon to make tough judgments about the SFPD. There were calls for Gascón to wall himself off from such cases, which he refused to do, even though that was arguably a more serious and direct conflict of interest than Mirkarimi overseeing the jail.

Also, let's not forget that it was Gascón who started this whole ordeal by deciding to charge Mirkarimi with domestic violence crimes, accept the plea bargain to misdemeanor false imprisonment, and recommend the punishment that the court accepted – which included the highly unusual requirement that Mirkarimi issue a public apology to his neighbor, Ivory Madison, who went to police against the wishes of Mirkarimi's wife. At the time, Mirkarimi was serving as sheriff and overseeing all the department's functions – and he wasn't letting the batterers run free or battering them himself – and Gascón didn't raise this issue of then or make it a condition of Mirkarimi's plea, which he certainly could have.

Finally, there was this sanctimonious statement by Gascón: “As the chief law enforcement official in this City and County, I will stand unapologetically with the victims. I will work tirelessly to be sure both victims and witnesses know this city does not tolerate domestic violence.” Yet the record of his office indicates something that falls far short of tireless efforts to combat domestic violence.

As a San Francisco Public Press investigation revealed last month, San Francisco has by far the lowest rate of domestic violation prosecutions of any Bay Area jurisdiction, a terrible record that has gotten even worse since Gascón took over. Whether judged by the number of domestic violence cases filed per capita (29.5 per 10,000 residents, compared with 58.5 in the region) or the number cases it received that it declined to prosecute (it dropped 6,200 of the 8,600 cases that it received from police), Gascón has no business claiming to show zero tolerance for domestic violence. His prosecution of Mirkarimi was more aberration than rule.

We've been trying to get a comment out of the DA's Office on this issue for weeks, and they still haven't replied (Stillman told me today that “we're still working on it”). Gascón was also asked about his office's poor record on domestic violence recently on KQED's Forum and gave only a deflective non-answer. Perhaps he'd be better off figuring out how his office could so consistently fail the victims of domestic violence rather than worrying so much about the too-few of them that he's managed to send to jail.

We all understand what an emotional and important issue domestic violence is, and even how unsettling it may be to many to have Mirkarimi as sheriff. But the members of the Domestic Violence Consortium and La Casa de las Madres – those who have led the campaign to oust Mirkarimi – aren't the only people who care about this issue.

During the public comment portion of Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, there were many domestic violence victims who expressed more outrage over the failure of these domestic violence groups or the DA's office to support them than they were about Mirkarimi continuing to be the sheriff. The city just spent $1.3 million trying to remove Mirkarimi and another [[CORRECTED FIGURE: $140,000]] paying his interim replacement, Vicky Hennessy – money that could have been better spent directly responding to domestic violence than this fruitless symbolic stand.

But that's over now, just like their efforts to remove Mirkarimi, and we all need to move on instead of trying to re-fight this difficult battle over and over again. People can still disagree with what happened and vent and be angry – and from what we're hearing from City Hall, many of the messages have been quite savage, some even threatening violence. They can even work on a recall campaign or take other political actions.

Yet we all still share a city – a wonderfully diverse city with a wide range of perspectives and opinions – and we're all forced to accept things about it that we don't like. Gascón doesn't get to decide who the sheriff is or how he plays that role any more than Mirkarimi got to tell Gascón how to do his job – despite suffering far more direct impacts.

We each have our roles to play, and we'll all be better off if we do them well and accept that we live in a rainbow city, not a black-and-white world.