Thursday, December 5, 2019
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Kamala Harris’s Prosecutorial Record


Source: The Breakfast Club
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Kamala Harris, the California senator and who nearly doubled her polling percentage after the first Democratic debate [1], called herself a “progressive Democrat” in a CNN Interview. [2] But in her time as a prosecutor in California and based on her political views in the 2020 campaign, it seems that she is just jumping on the progressive bandwagon to appeal to more voters.

The part of her career Harris focused on most during the debates was her time as a prosecutor. She served as San Francisco’s district attorney from 2004 to 2011, and then California attorney general from 2011 to 2017, prior to being elected as a Senator in 2018. When asked to describe her prosecutorial record by Ed O’Keefe of Face the Nation, Harris mentioned the following:

[I] created one of the first re-entry initiatives, that became a model—it was designated as a model in the United States for what law enforcement should do to be, as I call it, smart on crime. I was the first in the nation, leading the state Department of Justice in California—which, by the way, is the second-largest Department of Justice in the United States—to require my agents to wear body cameras. I created, as attorney general, the first-in-the-nation implicit bias and procedural justice training for law enforcement, knowing that that had to be addressed, which is the implicit bias that exists in law enforcement and the potentially lethal outcomes that occur from that. [3]

The re-entry initiative she mentioned is the Back on Track program. As Harris describes it, first-time drug offenders “can go through a tough, year-long program that will require them to get educated, stay employed, be responsible parents, drug test, and transition to a crime-free life, or they can go to jail.” [4] This initiative did meet its goal of having a low recidivism rate, but it also had only 300 graduates over eight years [5].

But Harris fell short on other, more pertinent reforms she could have made as a prosecutor. The Supreme Court found that “lack of access to medical care in California’s prisons due to overcrowding amounted to cruel and unusual punishment” [5], but Harris fought to release fewer prisoners than lower courts had ordered. She also took no position on state sentencing reform bills in 2012 and 2014, saying she had to “remain neutral”. Natasha Minsker, the director of the Center for Advocacy and Policy at the A.C.L.U. of California, said, “‘Smart on crime’ is still a good phrase, but the support for more significant reform has gotten broader and gone farther than where she is.” [5]

She claimed she was the first in the nation to require her agents to wear the body cameras, which is true; under her oversight, California became the first state to adopt a body camera program. But she fought against a statewide bill [7] that would have created statewide regulations for how local jurisdictions may use body cameras, saying she was in favor of local agencies, not the state, regulating the use of police body cameras. “When you allow local jurisdictions to opt out, what you’re ensuring is disproportionate types of enforcement,” said Lara Bazelon, a law professor at the University of San Francisco. [6] The issue draws a similarity to her criticism of Biden during the debate for rejecting federal busing legislation and instead advocating busing programs created by city councils and states.

There are other specific incidents in her prosecutorial record that could be seen as unprogressive. Namely:

  1. Fighting against providing gender reassignment surgery to a transgender inmate, after a judge ruled in the inmate’s favor. [8]
  2. Preventing a Sikh man from becoming a correctional officer because his beard would prevent him from being fitted for a gas mask for protection from tear gas and pepper spray, despite making medical exceptions for beards. [9]
  3. Lawyers in her division “pushed back against a federal order to expand an early parole program, arguing that it would deplete their stock of prison labor.” [10]
  4. As mentioned by Gabbard in the second debate, Harris “blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so.” [11]
  5. California prosecutors claimed to have discovered over a thousand foreclosure law violations when Steve Mnuchin was the CEO of OneWest Bank, but Harris declined to file action against them. [12] This is made suspicious by the fact that Steve Mnuchin and his wife donated thousands of dollars to Harris’ campaigns for AG and the senate. Notably, she was the only Democrat to whom they donated during those elections.
  6. She laughed about the legalization of marijuana in California in 2014 but admitted that she smoked marijuana during college. And, as a prosecutor, she prosecuted thousands of people for using marijuana and other drugs. [14]

Sen. Harris should not be proud of her prosecutorial record, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was right in calling her out for what happened while she was a prosecutor. She must address these concerns about her record or apologizes for them, as she called for Biden to do over his segregationist remarks, instead of dismissing them as she did in the second debate.

[1]https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2020/president/us/2020_democratic_presidential_nomination-6730.html

[2] https://youtu.be/LoKzKAQYlC0?t=20

[3] https://www.democracynow.org/2019/7/2/kamala_harris_not_a_progressive_prosecutor

[4] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/finding-the-path-back-on_b_350679

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/magazine/kamala-harris-a-top-cop-in-the-era-of-black-lives-matter.html

[6] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/how-kamala-harris-record-on-police-body-cameras-fits-into-the-2020-debate-on-criminal-justice

[7] https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB66

[8] https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/jimdalrympleii/judge-orders-california-to-provide-sex-reassignment-surgery#.coMlByQB6

[9] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/8283894/Sikh-man-cannot-become-guard-because-of-beard.html

[10] https://thinkprogress.org/california-attorney-general-says-her-offices-defense-of-prison-labor-evokes-chain-gangs-5c768fd447a4/

[11] https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article233375207.html

[12] https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/01/25/dem-senator-received-donations-before-and-after-failing-to-prosecute-trump-nominees-bank/

[13] https://www.salon.com/2019/08/04/here-is-the-fatal-flaw-in-kamala-harris-health-plan_partner/

[14] https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/cjsc/publications/misc/drugarrests/drugs3.pdf

 

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