Why black voters are right to be skeptical about Kamala Harris

Sen. Kamala Harris' problematic criminal justice record may hurt Biden more than help him.
August 12th, 2020     Featured Opinion

Biden’s choice of a black female running mate is undoubtedly a welcome milestone for the country. However, despite pleas from Democratic establishment voices to the contrary, black voters have good reason to question whether Kamala Harris would be an authentic ally to them as VP. A closer look at her record reveals why.

The VEEP-stakes

After his nomination became all but assured, presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden hinted strongly at choosing a female running mate. During a debate, Biden had also promised to put a black woman on the Supreme Court if elected. However, he made no guarantees as to the race of his running mate. His leading VP contenders included governors Gretchen Whitmer and Michelle Lujan Grisham, both white.

In recent weeks, there was a clamor among Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists for Biden to choose a black female running mate. Given Biden’s need to burnish his own record on race, it made good political sense. However, if it is Biden’s intention to court the black vote, his choice of Sen. Kamala Harris for VP may turn out to be a massive misfire.

Tough on crime?

Black voters who criticize Biden’s support of the 1994 crime bill are also likely to find Harris’ criminal justice record wanting. In 2009, during Harris’ tenure as California Attorney General, the US Supreme Court ordered California to release 5,000 non-violent offenders. This was a last-ditch effort to alleviate the inhumane conditions in the state’s hopelessly overcrowded prisons. Rather than complying, Harris’ office stalled by filing motion after motion, even challenging the Supreme Court’s authority on the matter. In 2013, a federal court found both the state and Harris’ office in contempt for their attempts to obstruct the order.

Few would have considered Harris as progressive or a champion of black rights during her time as California AG. In contrast with Senator Harris’ outspoken stance on policing in America, AG Harris was roundly criticized by BLM for her inaction on police killings of unarmed black people. She also used technicalities to prevent wrongfully convicted men (one of whom is on death row) from getting new trials. Moreover, AG Harris’ office was particularly aggressive in prosecuting low-level offenses like truancy, which disproportionately targeted people of color. But, when it came to high-level white-collar crimes that victimized many people of color, Harris’ approach was notably more hands-off. Many would say “negligent.”

From 2009 to 2015, Steve Mnuchin, our current Treasury Secretary, was head of One West Bank. In 2012, prosecutors in Harris’ own office produced an internal memo citing over 1000 violations of foreclosure laws by One West during the height of the foreclosure crisis. The writers of the memo predicted further investigation would find 1000s more violations by One West. Rather than acting on this overwhelming evidence, Harris declined to prosecute. She has yet to offer any explanation for this.

Style over substance

Though any one of these issues could be disqualifying, Biden’s choice of Harris for VP now seems to have been a foregone conclusion. Harris has established her own brand of brash charisma and made a name for herself in the Senate. It is symptomatic of Biden’s tone deaf campaign that his VP pick would be one of style over substance. Of all the imminently qualified and infinitely more credible black women Biden had to choose from, (Keisha Lance Bottoms, Karen Bass and Nina Turner to name but a few), he’s managed to tap the only one who’s more likely to hurt rather than help his case with black voters.

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