August 15, 2012
Over a couple weeks of discussion among our steering committee members, we wrote this letter which we sent to the SF Ethics Commission asking them to reinstate Ross Mirkarimi as sheriff. We know this is a sensitive and emotionally charged issue, but we ask y’all to be respectful about it. We felt it was important to articulate our position about this case.
Our criminal justice system is broken
The main flaw in our criminal justice system is the ingrained idea that when someone commits a crime, we have to lock them up and throw away the key. It’s this idea that has led to the U.S. having the highest incarceration rate in the world.
We supported Sheriff Mirkarimi because he is committed to changing that
Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has shown a commitment to reforming the criminal justice system to focus it on rehabilitating offenders and reintegrating them into society. That’s the main reason we supported him for Sheriff.
So it’s been a brutal irony to watch this flawed ‘zero tolerance’ idea being applied to Mirkarimi’s domestic violence case and leading to his removal from office. We think the Mayor’s attempt to remove Mirkarimi from office is misguided, and we’re very uncomfortable with a democratically elected official being unilaterally ousted by his political opponents.
It’s been a challenge for us to navigate the nuances of the issues raised by this case. We stand against domestic violence, yet we simultaneously believe in rehabilitation and in restorative justice. We abhor our society’s failure to address violence against women, yet we believe that in this case, the punitive response was politically fueled. Neither an average citizen in San Francisco nor a Sheriff aligned with the Mayor would have been targeted in the way Mirkarimi has been.
The effect on Theo and Eliana
The most painful part of this whole situation has been watching Mirkarimi’s family be torn apart. Lost in all the drama is the fact that a little boy has been kept away from his father for over six months. We think everyone who considers this issue should read Myrna Melgar’s Op-Ed “Domestic violence, a Latina feminist perspective,” which considers “the [implications] of the criminalization of low-level, first offenses of domestic violence on . . . immigrant women and other women of color.”
Melgar concludes that “a more progressive approach . . . 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.”
You can’t ignore the politics of the situation
It’s impossible to separate Mirkarimi’s removal from office from the dynamics of San Francisco politics. For as long as any of us have been involved, San Francisco politics has been sharply divided between progressive and moderate factions. For more than twenty years, Mirkarimi has been one of the strongest and most effective leaders of the opposition to the interconnected Willie Brown-Gavin Newsom-Ed Lee administrations. Mirkarimi strongly opposed the appointment of Ed Lee as Mayor.
On the Board of Supervisors, Mirkarimi was a vocal critic of then-police chief George Gascón on a number of issues. Mirkarimi led the fight against the Sit Lie Law; Gascón was one of the main supporters. Gascón opposed Mirkarimi’s attempts to mandate police foot patrols and require the SFPD to disclose their budget for security for elected officials.
Mayor Lee needs to get off his high horse
We’re disturbed by the reports that Mayor Lee committed perjury in his testimony at the Ethics Commission (in denying that he spoke to Supervisor Christina Olague about the case and denying that he offered Mirkarimi a job if he would resign). And we’re disappointed in the Mayor’s borderline-belligerent reaction to these accusations. The Mayor acts like his word is unassailable and that we should all just “take his word for it” that he didn’t commit perjury.
The only reason he is Mayor is because he broke his promise to the people of San Francisco that he wouldn’t run for Mayor after he was appointed!
Lee came into office with serious trust issues, and his attempt to dismiss these accusations from respected San Franciscans only makes us less likely to trust him. Mirkarimi has done something that we’re still waiting for Mayor Lee to do: apologize and take responsibility for his actions.
When we compare the severity of the response to Mirkarimi’s case with the lack of any investigation into the accusations of the Mayor’s perjury, as well as the lack of consequences for the apparent voter fraud committed by the Mayor’s supporters last year, we’re left with the impression that the Mayor and his allies are not held to the same standards as the rest of us.
The media fails us again
The local media has been fascinated with the tornado of scandal that has surrounded these events. Instead of investigative, balanced reporting, we’re left with storm chasing that reads more like gossip rags. We want to see more focus on testimony and context and less of the media assuming the role of judge and jury.
What we want
So here’s what we want to see happen:
- The Ethics Commission to recommend that Mirkarimi be reinstated as Sheriff. We don’t believe Mirkarimi’s misdemeanor rises to the level of official misconduct, and we’re uncomfortable with him being removed from office by his political opponents.
- The Ethics Commission and/or District Attorney to fully investigate the allegations of the Mayor’s perjury.
- The members of the Board of Supervisors to come clean about any conversations they had with the Mayor on this issue.
- And lastly, we want Mirkarimi to take advantage of this second chance. We’re painfully disappointed in his actions, which set off this shit storm in the first place, but we’re encouraged by how this ordeal has made him more humble and open. If he is reinstated as Sheriff, Mirkarimi needs to continue to own up to his actions and use his experience to lead the effort to reform how we treat domestic violence in San Francisco. The City voters elected Mirkarimi and they should have the final decision on whether he remains as Sheriff.
SF League of Pissed-Off Voters
About the League
The League of Young Voters empowers young people nationwide to participate in the democratic process and create progressive political change on the local, state and national level – with a focus on non-college youth and youth from low-income communities and communities of color. The League makes political engagement relevant by meeting young people where they are, working on issues that affect their lives, and providing them with tools, training, and support to become serious catalysts for change in their communities. Founded in 2003, the League has become one of the strongest youth organizations in the country fighting for progressive change.