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NEWS & ANALYSIS

Harris Debate Claims Are Debatable When It Comes to Race & Law Enforcement

During Wednesday’s Vice-Presidential debate, Kamala Harris addressed questions of racial justice by touting her career as a prosecutor, and even calling her record a “model” of what would occur if Biden were elected.

“First of all, having served as the attorney general of the state of California, the work that I did is a model of what our nation needs to do, and we will be able to do under a Joe Biden presidency,” Harris said.

Harris referenced her career multiple times, both as evidence of her qualification, and as a supposed vision for the country’s justice system.

“I think that Joe asked me to serve with him because, you know, I have a career that included being elected the first woman District Attorney of San Francisco, where I created models of innovation for law enforcement in terms of reform of the criminal justice system,” Harris said. “I was elected the first woman of color and black woman to be elected Attorney General for the state of California, where I ran the second largest department of justice in the United States…”

“There I took on everything from transnational criminal organizations, to the big banks that were taking advantage of homeowners, to for-profit colleges that were taking advantage of veterans.”

Harris conveniently forgot to mention some of her other most notable targets during her tenure, such as marijuana users and truant children.

During Harris’ time as AG, at least 1,560 people were locked up for marijuana related offenses, according to a 2019 analysis from The Washington Free Beacon. The report notes that this figure does not include individuals who may have been sent to prison and then diverted to county jails in California’s attempt to realign its system to solve for overcrowded prisons.

Harris has boasted about her choice to punish the parents of children who missed school, calling truancy “tantamount to a crime,” even amid criticism that such policies served to perpetuate the types of “implicit” racial bias she claimed during the debate to have fought against during her time as a prosecutor.

Although critics say that Harris has a history of “terrorizing Black communities through the prison industrial complex,” during Wednesday’s debate Harris was quick to turn to supposed issues of racial justice as a means of dodging Pence’s repeated questioning about whether or not she and Biden plan to pack the court should Amy Coney Barrett be appointed Supreme Court Justice.

“Yeah, let’s talk about packing the court then,” Harris finally said after being asked multiple times. She did not, however answer the question. Instead she turned the discussion toward the racial demographics of the Trump administration’s federal judge appointments.

“Do you know that of the 50 people who President Trump appointed to the court of appeals for lifetime appointments, not one is Black? This is what they’ve been doing. You want to talk about packing a court, let’s have that discussion.”

In post-debate analysis, Turning Point USA founder, Charlie Kirk was quick to pounce on Harris’ call for skin color tests  when selecting judges by asking the rhetorical question “when has America made good decisions by using skin color as a test?”

Harris did not at any point answer the question of whether or not she and Biden plan to pack the court.

“I am a former career prosecutor. I know what I’m talking about,” Harris said just before promising to “get rid of private prisons and cash bail” and “decriminalize marijuana.”

As pointed out by primary opponent Tulsi Gabbard last year, during the very career she references as a framework for her “vision,” Harris pushed to raise cash bail in San Francisco, insisting that “People come to San Francisco to commit crimes because it’s cheaper to do it.”

In discussing her work in California as a “model” for what would be done as part of Biden administration criminal justice policy, Harris referred to body cameras, training on “implicit bias” and “investing in reentry.”

Harris’ actual record on “reentry” is spotty at best, and does not include a willingness to use science to determine if people should be incarcerated in the first place.  During her time as Attorney General, Harris denied a request for DNA testing to California death-row inmate Kevin Cooper. Cooper maintains that he was framed for murder.

“Advanced forensic testing is now available that could show that Mr. Cooper is innocent of these crimes, but the State refuses to permit it,” Cooper’s attorney said.

Harris now says she feels “awful” about this, asserting years later that she is a “firm believer in DNA testing,” and that she hopes the governor and the state will allow for such testing in the case of Kevin Cooper.”  In 2018 outgoing Governor Jerry Brown authorized such a test, and in 2019 Governor Newsom further authorized and expanded the testing order.  No results have yet been reported more than a year and a half later, a situation that would have long since been resolved had Harris permitted the testing.

Written By

Celine Ryan is an American journalist covering politics, culture, tech, and higher education.

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