Ross Mirkarimi, co-founder of California’s Green Party, and former San Francisco Supervisor hurt his wife. He grabbed her arm and left bruises during a domestic fight. Yes, progressives do this too. Ten months after the event, on Oct. 10, 2012, he was officially reinstated as San Francisco’s Sheriff after months of heated debate between supporters of his liberal politics and activists committed to ending domestic violence. And though the Mirkarimis are now reconciled as a couple, this is not unusual. We know that on average, it takes women seven attempts to leave the people who abuse them.
My organization, the Family Violence Law Center, was founded in 1978 by a group of women angered by the Berkeley police department’s lack of response to domestic violence. And, for more than 30 years, leaders of the battered women’s movement have specifically targeted their organizing efforts at the criminal justice system – gaining ground with the police and courts to recognize domestic violence when they see it and protect survivors with the rule of law. Mirkarimi’s statement in January, at the scene of the ‘event,’ was that theirs was a domestic matter that should not require police intervention – despite evidence of physical harm.
When the perpetrator of violence leads the public office that is mandated to protect citizens from violence, it underscores what many communities of color, poor and immigrant communities, homeless youth and the queer and trans already know: that the police will not protect them. I am from one of those communities. As a victim of a hate-crime, I chose not to call the police, fearing their prejudiced lack of response. The decision to reinstate Mirkarimi represents yet another step back for women: alongside challenges to our right to choose we face the loss of police protection when we are in danger. This is no small matter, as this decision will effectively silence women when they most need it. I wonder, though, with this decision, won’t we all lose?