Mirkarimi DV Allegations: Vast Resources Squandered on a Bruise

March 8th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s trial on  domestic violence charges is moving ahead, as this article informs us (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/5/12).

Jury selection is getting under way in the domestic violence trial of the embattled Mirkarimi, who is charged with misdemeanor counts that he grabbed and bruised the arm of Lopez in front of their toddler son on New Year’s Eve.

Nearly 200 prospective jurors were expected to file into a courtroom Monday in a trial that has attracted international attention.

Yes, the case has garnered considerable attention alright, and I’m glad it has.  After all, with press coverage that includes sentences like that last one, I’d say it’s just barely possible that people might come to their senses on the subject of domestic violence.

You remember the Mirkarimi case.  It’s alleged that he and his wife, former Venezuelan telenovela star Eliana Lopez, had an argument on New Years Eve and that Mirkarimi grabbed her upper arm leaving a bruise.  That incident would have remained private except that Lopez went to a neighbor’s house, and that neighbor turned out to be a domestic violence zealot.  She seized the opportunity to make an international incident out of it by videotaping a statement by Lopez saying Mirkarimi had grabbed her arm.

Since then, Lopez has been proclaiming to all the world that her husband didn’t hurt her, that she loves him dearly and has no fear of him.  But of course the various police, prosecutors and courts are having none of her denials.  They’ve got the videotape and that’s enough for them to proceed to trial.

And that brings me back to that last sentence I quoted from the Chronicle above.  200 prospective jurors.  That’s 200 people who were told by the county to take time off work to come to court and sit for hours while lawyers and judges tried to figure out if they could find 12 of them who are so out of it that they don’t know about the hugely publicized Mirkarimi case.  I’m sure an economist could figure out how much money that is in lost productivity to an economy that’s already in the dumps.

I don’t know what happened between Mirkarimi and Lopez that night, if anything.  But I’m perfectly willing to assume, for the sake of argument, that Mirkarimi did what Lopez initially said he did – grab her arm. 

But what I’d like to ask, having so assumed, is whether the response to that incident makes sense.  Mirkarimi has been arrested, booked, charged and arraigned.  He’s had a restraining order issued against him keeping  him from seeing his wife or his son, and of course they from him.  He’s gone back to court and had the order amended so that, three weeks after it was issued, he could see his son two hours a day and six hours on weekends.  Reporters have spent countless hours covering the case; judges, police, court personnel and others have all spent hours carrying out their public responsibilities relating to the case.  And it’s far from over; trial hasn’t even begun.  In the end, how much taxpayer money will be spent on this case?  Meanwhile, a little boy has been separated from his father for reasons he can’t begin to fathom.

All of that for a bruise.

Can you imagine the county directing that many resources toward a punch-up in a bar that left a single bruise on the arm of one of the combatants?  It’d be lunacy at best, but that’s exactly what we do in the most minor of domestic violence incidents. 

There is domestic violence that warrants such a response by the state.  There are people who systematically, predictably injure their partners and/or their children.  Some of those are truly a danger to the well-being of the people with whom they live.  Those are the ones toward which we need to direct the resources of the criminal law, not the vast majority of what we call domestic violence.

As much social science tells us, the overwhelming majority of domestic violence is, in the first place, situational, i.e. it’s not part of a pattern of conduct but comes about occasionally in particular contexts usually involving stress and sometimes alcohol and/or drug consumption.  Second, the great majority of what we call domestic violence is either completely non-injurious or results in only “a minor cut or bruise” in the words of a large study by the government of Scotland.  That study found that 80% of what we call domestic violence resulted in either no injury or “a minor cut or bruise” of the type Eliana Lopez experienced.

What that plainly means is that involving the police, courts and jails, as well as tearing families apart and taking parents out of children’s lives constitutes a ludicrous overreaction, exactly as it does in Ross Mirkarimi’s case.  That type of minor misbehavior on the part of two adults has no business clogging up the courts and weighing down the police who in fact have better things to do.

It would be an absurd overreaction even if it had some effect on domestic violence, but it clearly doesn’t.  As many observers have already remarked, there’s no evidence that our approach to domestic violence has any effect on the level of violence between partners.  That’s because, to the extent DV is pathological, its appropriate response is therapeutic, not legal.  If we can identify people who truly have a problem with physically assaulting their partners or children, we can, for the most part, help them to change their ways.  Again, there’s a fair amount of social science on that.  But criminal law often eschews any response but conviction and jail.

It’s one of the many amazing aspects of our response to domestic violence that over 70% of people who say they’ve been a victim of DV don’t report the matter.  The DV establishment bewails the fact and pretends to be baffled about why it should be.  But the truth is plain for all to see; when faced with a spouse who grabbed an arm, threw a plate, yelled an obscenity, blocked a door, etc. the vast majority of people sensibly don’t want the hassle of the police, courts, restraining orders and the trauma of a family torn apart.  It’s one of the many ways in which everyday folks are smarter than those inside the DV establishment.

My guess is that if we had a more sensible, less threatening response to incidents of DV, more people would be willing to report them.  If Mom knew that Dad wouldn’t be charged with a crime, thrown out of his house and kept from his children, she’d be a lot more inclined to report it when he grabs her arm.  If she knew he’d get the type of help he needs, instead of jail time that solves nothing, wouldn’t she be more likely to come forward?

And if she too could get help in understanding her role in what is almost invariably not a matter of individual perpetration and victimhood, but one of family dynamics in which each adult contributes to a dysfunctional relationship, we would actually start to solve our DV problem.

But the commonsense idea, supported by the science on the matter, that most DV requires no intervention by anyone at any time, and that when intervention is required, it’s the therapeutic kind – not the police and courts – that has the ability to work is uniformly shunned by the DV establishment.

Interestingly, it’s just that idea that Mirkarimi himself alluded to when he called the incident (if there was one) “a private matter, a family matter.”  In doing so, he was giving voice to the exact same understanding of such a minor incident that over 70% of people have – that it’s private and not worth the involvement of the police and courts.

But those with a vested interest in our utterly dysfunctional system of domestic violence response were having none of that.

…Mirkarimi called it “a private matter, a family matter,” which inflamed anti-domestic violence advocates who commissioned a billboard that reads: “Domestic violence is NEVER a private matter.”

That’s just how they’d like it.  The roots of the domestic violence establishment grow out of a fairly well publicized anti-family notion that, if men are around, women are at risk.  Massive amounts of social science rebut that idea, but old habits die hard.  And DV advocates well know that the rejection of their billboard’s message by over 70% of people is currently the most powerful force for sanity about domestic violence.

The DV establishment calls for ever-greater intrusion into family life by the state’s police power.  That approach has proved itself to be incompetent to deal with the issue of domestic violence in this or any other country.  It is far past time for a change that reflects the social science regarding DV.  It is far past time to jettison forever the anti-male, anti-family political ideology that has for years masqueraded as DV prevention.  It’s not.  It never will be.

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