Dig deeper and Kamala Harris isn’t the candidate she portrays

October 15, 2019 — by Anouk Yeh

Senator Harris’s past records as SF district attorney and CA attorney general are glaring warnings we can’t overlook.

On Jan. 21, Sen. Kamala Harris announced the beginning of her 2020 presidential elections. As a proud Californian (yay perfect weather and avocado toast!), I was excited to see Harris join the presidential race.

Harris entered my awareness in late 2018 during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. After her intense and well-crafted cross examination of the then Supreme Court nominee, I became intrigued by her quick-wit and charisma and decided to learn more about her.

Harris was elected to the Senate in 2016. Previously, she served as California attorney general from 2011 to 2017 and before that, she was the San Francisco district attorney from 2004 to 2010. A large part of her candidacy appeal is attributed to her self-described nature as a “progressive prosecutor,” described by Quartz Website to be a prosecutor who strives to enact criminal justice reforms and, more or less, her identity. 

Harris is the third female senator to represent California and the first of either Jamaican or Indian heritage. 

Harris has used this to her advantage, consistently arguing that her identity would help her better advocate for traditionally marginalized groups in the U.S. 

Although I was initially intrigued by what Harris’s candidacy symbolizes — progressive-but-not-overtly-radical potential first female person of color (POC) president, a short dive into her record as California’s attorney general left me confused — her past record serving California seemed completely oxymoronic to her current political views. As a Californian, I find it almost laughable comparing her rhetoric on the campaign trail to her record serving in-state. 

For starters, despite being a self-proclaimed “progressive prosecutor,” Harris has had a long history of championing legislation that disproportionately affects low-income families and people of color. 

Most infamously, she supported legislation would allow schools to sue and jail parents whose children have been “habitually truant,” despite concerns that it would disproportionately target low-income families. 

During her time as attorney general, Harris also refused to support amendments to reduce the impact of the Three Strikes Law in California. This legislation required second-time felony offenders to serve double the regular term provided for the crime and for third time and beyond offenders to serve at least 25 years in prison.

Harris supported keeping the original law, despite concerns that it would perpetuate mass incarceration and findings showing that it disproportionately targets Hispanic and African American Communities. Research by the Open Society Foundation found that the Three Strikes Law caused African American to be incarcerated 12 times as much as their white counterparts.

In addition to sponsoring legislation that actually hurt Californian minorities, Harris has also been notorious for vacillating between different stances on issues like incarceration rates. 

Although she claims that she’s in favor of lowering incarceration rates, she abstained on taking a stance of the citizen approved Proposition 47 that would decrease some minor felonies to misdemeanors, resulting to the resentencing of 10,000 Californian inmates. In addition, she has also been notorious for upholding wrongful convictions. Most infamously, in 2010, her prosecution team wrongfully sentenced rapper Jamal Trulove to 50 years in prison for the murder of Seu Kuka. Trulove’s conviction ended up being overturned in March of 2019, when an appeals court found out that the witness had been compensated by Harris’s prosecution team to testify. 

Although we cannot ignore the positives that Harris accomplished during her tenure as SF’s district attorney and California’s attorney general, such as creating an implicit bias training series and helping fix severe rape kit backlogs, we have to recognize that Harris’s past patterns of supporting legislation specifically targeting minority groups and the clear  disconnect between her beliefs and her actions are not simply dismissable past blunders, but a likely preview for her future leadership.

In a polarized and politically frantic time as this, we need a candidate that doesn’t just talk the talk, but whose actions also follow through.