Kamala Harris – A Possible Mark in American Politics

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden named Kamala Harris as his running mate – the first black woman and South Asian American to be put in that role.


Joe Biden on Tuesday announced California Sen. Kamala Harris as his 2020 running mate. Kamala Harris has represented California in the U.S. Senate since 2017. Harris served two terms as the district attorney in San Francisco and was California’s attorney general, the first woman of color to hold that office.

Cullen Davis, Staff Columnist

There is no doubt that former Vice President Joe Biden’s decision to select Sen. Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential nominee will undoubtedly leave a mark on the year 2020 and American politics as a whole. Forty-eight hours after the decision was announced, President Donald Trump labeled Harris as “nasty” several times and then used the words “meanest” and “most horrible” in his characterization of her.

In contrast, the pair have been labeled by the Democratic Party as a dynamic duo that has the task of leading a dramatic political shift for the next four years. However, Biden and Harris’ history on criminal justice matters are being exposed like a ripped bandage and will not be easy to shake off, especially by the black community.

As a resident of Northern California, specifically the Bay Area, Harris was a familiar household name. Teachers, students, friends, and even random strangers who are socially conscious and or politically aware in the Bay Area understand that when Harris’ name is mentioned, it is met with hostility because of her harsh criminal justice views. So, why is a distinguished Howard University alumna the same person responsible for locking up more African Americans in California’s history?

After winning the election as San Francisco’s District Attorney in 2004, she raised the conviction rate of felons significantly over the next two years, especially for African Americans.  Harris was re-elected again in 2007, and with this strong backing from voters, she clearly rested her feet on the sound views of being tough on crime. Over-incarceration, death penalty, and wrongful incarceration were among the issues that maintained the status quo, and too many, these issues increased under Harris.

Kevin Cooper is an example of this behavior. Cooper was charged with kidnapping, rape, and four counts of murder in 1983. Years later, reports of possible manipulation of evidence came to light, and when the request for DNA testing was brought to Harris’ attention to prove Coopers’ innocence, she refused to entertain it. Cooper may have died in prison had it not been for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s interference.

Along with Harris, Biden has a history of bad decisions dealing with criminal justice. As the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Biden did not only support the war on drugs and mass incarceration, and he wrote many of the laws that helped build a penal system that is full of African Americans. That included measures that increased incarceration, construction of more prisons, and tougher prison sentences for drug offenses, particularly crack cocaine.

Biden has also been quoted criticizing former U.S. President George W. Bush’s stance on criminal justice reforms saying it “doesn’t include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs, not enough prosecutors to convict them, not enough judges to sentence them, and not enough prison cells to put them away for a long time” — a direct call for more incarceration. With the current and past relationship between the black community and law enforcement, it is clear to see the resentment and side-eye looks Harris and Biden are receiving.

Biden and Harris’ ethics are being challenged and questioned by not fulfilling the actions many African American citizens have been begging for. When addressing her current position, Harris brands her recent moves as “progressive prosecution,” but many may judge it as slightly less awful prosecution. When Biden is questioned, he is quoted backtracking, even apologizing and saying, “I haven’t always been right.”

Now despite their questionable decisions in criminal justice and past, both Biden and Harris have a political agenda that is more aligned in African Americans’ best interests and their communities. During Harris’ 2016 Senate campaign she introduced plans and bills to expand health care, initiate police reform, provide funding to HBCUs, raise credit scores for minorities, and lessen the bail/bond system for local jails. Biden on the same token had a change in viewpoints during his tenure as the Vice President to President Barack Obama, co-signing legislation and ideas that were progressive for the African American community. Harris, being an Oakland, California native has roots of blackness in her blood and was groomed in a hotspot for civil rights in the late 60’s and 70’s. The same hotspot that gave us the Black Panther Party Huey Newton, Angela Davis and many more prominent black figures. Harris then took this cultural upbringing and further educated herself at a historically black university, Howard University, graduating with a degree in political science and being a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. It is as if she could not have been “any blacker.” Her running mate, Biden, became a pop culture icon as the right hand man to the first African American President and joked as the man allowed to the cook-out.

Sen. Harris might just represent a sense of relatability that a majority of African Americans can relate to, unlike the present administration. Although Harris and Biden’s record on crime is seen by many as abysmal, we are now at the table!  The duo of Biden and Harris could provide a lens and scope into black situations and issues that the current administration has not provided.

Biden and Harris might not have been your first choices, but just like their past criminal justice history, we cannot change the past. This is history, and once history has been made, we must continue to keep the push for both Biden and Harris that their mark becomes engraved, and progress is obtained in our communities because in the words of our first Vice Presidential Nominee, Kamala Harris, “You may be the first, but make sure you’re not the last.”