On Wednesday August 19th, 2020, Kamala Harris became just the third ever woman of color in the history of the United States of America to appear as a candidate on a Presidential ticket. Charlotta Bass was the first ever Black woman to do it, as she ran in 1952 as the Progressive Party candidate for vice president. Shirley Chisholm was the second. She ran for president representing the Democratic party exactly 20 years later in 1972.
48 years removed from Chisholm’s run, Harris’ nomination is yet another huge step for the social and political advancement of people of color. Of similar importance, this is another big win for the advancement of women’s suffrage. Women, by in large, have had a similar uphill climb to receive equal treatment next to men. The 19th Amendment did afford women the right to vote in 1919; but still today, women are fighting for equal pay and equal representation in male-dominated corporate boardrooms.
In this op/ed piece, I want to dig in and really uncover whether the Black community should really celebrate this historic nomination. Specifically, will a Biden/Harris ticket bring more of the same smoke and mirrors that we’ve seen from past Democratic tickets? Some will argue that Black and Latinx people blindly support a Democratic party whose own justice system mistreats and incarcerates them at similar or even higher levels than that of Republican-led jurisdictions. For example, remember the Crime Bill of 1994? You can thank our “first Black President” Bill Clinton for that. Somehow the Black community was fooled by his southern drawl, his saxophone playing, and his good looks because the bill he championed contributed heavily to the mass-incarceration crisis we find ourselves in today.
Still, much has been written and debated about Harris’s record, specifically, on policing and the criminal justice system. When she ran for President, she tried to brand herself as a “progressive prosecutor.” A trendy position to take as America is looking for a reprieve from the Trump administrations’ “Law & Order” stance. Unfortunately for her, by today’s standards, the record shows that her policies were more centrist than far left. As Attorney General, California’s “Top Cop” was ultimately responsible for enforcing legal technicalities on multiple occasions which she could have drastically changed the outcome when the death penalty was at stake. “She weaponized technicalities to keep wrongfully convicted people behind bars rather than allow them new trials with competent counsel and prosecutors willing to play fair,” said Lara Bazelon, law professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law.
What’s more, she declined to support bills which would have made it mandatory for police officers in California to wear body cameras and also declined to have the Attorney General’s office take the lead on investigating lethal officer-involved shootings. This is important because these are the critical issues which are directly impacting Black and Latinx communities. Law enforcement are killing and incarcerating us at a higher percentage than any other race group in the country – and per data mined from the 2010 census, it’s not even close.
Although her record is what it is, one of Harris’ biggest critics has reversed course and now supports her. Shaun King, famed author, activist, and founder of the Real Justice PAC was not a fan of neither Biden’s nor Harris’ record on mass incarceration and justice. Back in November 2018, King was quoted as saying in a tweet to his 1.1 million followers, “I’ll be frank and tell you, two Democrats, that I am 99% sure I won’t be supporting – primarily because of their dismal history on criminal justice reform over the course of their entire careers. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They both helped & advance mass incarceration.” However, once Harris dropped out of the presidential race clearing the way forward for her to accept the vice presidential nomination, King now believes that “she has improved drastically on all justice & policing-related issues since she was last District Attorney in 2011,” he tweeted in August 2020.
So where do we go from here? What does Shaun King now see that supporters of the Democratic party must see about Kamala Harris? Here is what I think you need to know about Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominee, Senator Kamala Harris:
She took the office of United States Senator in 2017 as the second African-American woman and first South Asian American in U.S. history. In the U.S. Senate, she serves on four committees: Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on the Budget. This is impressive because it shows that she is well-rounded and well-versed in a few of the core disciplines she will need to call on as a VP. What’s more, her mother Shyamala, an Indian-American immigrant, and her father Donald, a Jamaican-American, were activists who were on the front lines during the Civil rights movement. Kamala attributes her current connection to the Black Lives Matter movement with her “stroller-eye view” of the Civil Rights movement in-tow with her parents in the 60’s. This is the type of connection we need right now because our current administration is chock full of “top 1 percenters” who wouldn’t know struggle if it slapped them in the face. I feel like she could be relatable to the communities in our society who feel like they don’t have a voice.
She became the District Attorney of San Francisco in 2003. One of her most notable achievements was starting a program that gives first-time drug offenders the chance to earn a high school diploma and find employment. Soon after that, she became the first Black woman and the first woman to serve as California’s Attorney General. Some of her biggest achievements in that role included: winning a $25 billion settlement on behalf of California homeowners affected by the mortgage crisis, defending California’s climate change laws, helping to protect President Obama’s landmark healthcare legislation the Affordable Care Act, and helping to win marriage equality for all citizens of California.
Not a bad resumé, right? It’s important to note that it’s just as important to note her accomplishments as it is to criticize her record. Too often, supporters on both the left and right only focus on the things they perceive their favorite candidate does “right” and are less critical of their shortcomings. Also, it is important when voting for a President and Vice President, to view their stance on the issues to get an idea of what it looks like in their version of America.
As a member of the Black community, I choose to celebrate and support Kamala Harris. But I also want to make sure that she and other democratic candidates earn my vote. The only way to do that is to look at things from every angle, which is what I’ve attempted to do here. Use this article as a template for your thought process and how you approach supporting a candidate. Do your research! Your vote matters. Make it count.
words by: Tyrell Jenkins