After over 60 combined years of assisting survivors of domestic violence in the immigrant communities of the Bay Area, we have seen this society-wide problem from many angles. We have worked with many organizations in providing holistic, culturally appropriate services to thousands of survivors and their children. We have engaged with communities to transform beliefs and attitudes that collude with or condone violence.
It is clear that Ross Mirkarimi has lost the ability to lead the Sheriff’s Department. The most honorable action would have been for him to voluntarily step down. But instead he has dragged the city and survivors of domestic violence through months of anguish. The Board of Supervisors must now remove him from office for official misconduct.
Mirkarimi has lost the trust of the city and the department he was elected to lead. He has undermined his credibility by his conviction for false imprisonment, his responses to his conduct, and his attitudes towards domestic violence as a “private” matter. All this has been unacceptable especially from a top law enforcement official heading a department charged with rehabilitating perpetrators of violence and implementing anti-domestic violence programs. Clearly, he cannot competently oversee the Department’s Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) of the Survivor’s Restoration Project or serve as an example to inmates.
What kind of message does San Francisco want to send to its immigrant communities? Will we follow other less progressive jurisdictions that tolerate domestic abuse by public officials? Our communities of color already distrust law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Many of the domestic violence, elder abuse, and trafficking survivors we assist are trapped in their cycle of violence not only because of physical abuse but also because of psychological coercion. Many are threatened with immigration consequences, jail, or separation from their children should they decide to defy their abusers. Many of these threats are very true in the countries they come from, where law enforcement is known to be corrupt, unreliable, and also abusive. The example of a sheriff who is not held accountable will validate that distrust and enforce the belief that victims of crimes should be silent.
Ironically, some so-called progressive groups have come out to publically support Mirkarimi in his battle to regain his job. There is nothing progressive about domestic violence. Would those same groups be so supportive if Mirkarimi were accused of a hate crime or of making racial slurs? Would his supporters be so fervent if he said it was a one-time mistake and the hate crime or racial slur had no bearing on his ability to lead programs whose goals are justice, responsibility, and rehabilitation?
We can believe Eliana and yet still agree that her husband should be removed. We are not telling Eliana, or others like her, what to do about her marriage, her child, or the involvement of police. Those questions involve her rights and her decisions. But, her husband cannot properly administer a law enforcement agency. From our work in the community, we know that there is a wide range of responses from survivors of domestic violence. We respect all those responses. Some choose to obtain protective orders or seek safe shelter while others decide to remain in relationships and seek their safety or empowerment in creative ways. But, it is critical that survivors of violence know they can call for help at any time and that no community-based domestic violence program in San Francisco forces a survivor to engage with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. It is equally imperative that all people learn what protections and legal options are available to them.
Many in the community mistakenly believe Mirkarimi has already been removed from his position by the finding of official misconduct by San Francisco’s Ethics Commission. Others fear that members of the Board of Supervisors will avoid Mirkarimi’s removal by recusing themselves from the vote so that this process, rightfully initiated by Mayor Lee, will fall short of the nine Supervisors required to remove him. For Supervisors to avoid this process and fail to remove Mirkarimi with a head-in-the-sand approach is a disservice to the people of San Francisco.
We seek to prevent a loss of trust in the efforts to end domestic violence because it is the survivors, facing countless barriers to getting help, and our city that stand to suffer. In 2000, the San Francisco Police Department, Adult Probation, the District Attorney’s Office and the courts were all censured for their inadequate response to the case of Claire Tempongko who was stabbed to death in front of her children by her ex-boyfriend. City officials should be united and credible in their continuing efforts to implement positive changes.
We all take great pride in creating a vibrant, diverse, and progressive city. Let’s take this opportunity to move forward in our efforts to end violence against women in our city and avoid stepping backwards.
-Dean Ito Taylor, Executive Director at Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach and
Orchid Pusey, Associate Director at Asian Women’s Shelter