Kamala Harris’s “Top Cop” Record Faces New Scrutiny Amid BLM Protests

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s selection of California Senator Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate for the November election makes her the first Black woman and the first Indian American on a major party presidential ticket. “It’s hard to overstate how historic, how monumental this is,” says Aimee Allison, president of She the People, which works to elevate the political voice and leadership of women of color. But in the midst of the largest protest movement in American history against racist policing, Briahna Joy Gray, the former national press secretary for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, says “there’s a great deal of frustration” with Harris, who is “known for being the top cop from California.”

TRANSCRIPT

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AMY GOODMAN: We’re beginning with the top news here in this country. Joe Biden has selected Senator Kamala Harris of California to be his vice-presidential running mate, making her the first Black woman and the first Indian American to be on a major party presidential ticket. Kamala Harris is the daughter of immigrants, her father from Jamaica, her mother from India. Biden and Harris are scheduled to make their first appearance today in Wilmington, Delaware. Harris will officially accept her nomination next Wednesday during the Democratic National Convention. In a tweet, Biden described Harris as a, quote, “fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants.” Kamala Harris had endorsed Biden in March after challenging him for the nomination.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: I really believe in him, and I have known him for a long time. One of the things that we need right now is we need a leader who really does care about the people and who can therefore unify the people. And I believe Joe can do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris even though the two sparred on the campaign trail. In the first Democratic debate last year, Harris criticized Biden over his comments about working with segregationists in the Senate and for his opposition to Delaware’s attempts to bus students in an effort to integrate its schools in the 1970s.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: I’m going to now direct this at Vice President Biden. I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But I also believe — and it’s personal. I was actually very — it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day. And that little girl was me.

AMY GOODMAN: Kamala Harris has served in the Senate since 2017. She previously served as California’s attorney general for six years and, before that, as district attorney of San Francisco for seven years. She’s a graduate of Howard University, the historically Black college. While Harris has been credited with pushing criminal justice reform in the Senate, she has been criticized for her record as a prosecutor in California by progressives, in part for her reluctance to prosecute police brutality cases. She once called herself California’s “top cop,” and wrote in 2009, quote, “If we take a show of hands of those who would like to see more police officers on the street, mine would shoot up.”

Biden’s selection of Harris was celebrated by many progressive organizations. NAACP CEO Derrick Johnson said the selection of Harris is, quote, “the culmination of the tireless work of Shirley Chisholm, Charlene Mitchell, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Jordan, Ida B. Wells, and Myrlie Evers in their fight for representation and equality,” unquote. Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash praised Harris for taking the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, endorsing the Green New Deal and taking on Big Oil as California’s attorney general.

Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also praised Harris, tweeting, “She understands what it takes to stand up for working people, fight for health care for all, and take down the most corrupt administration in history.”

Meanwhile, at the White House, President Trump attacked Harris, describing her as, quote, “nasty.” He made no mention of the fact he had twice donated to Harris’s reelection bid to be California’s attorney general in 2014.

We’re joined now by two guests. Joining us from Harris’s hometown of Oakland, California, Aimee Allison, president and founder of She the People, which has worked to elevate the political voice and leadership of women of color. Also with us, Briahna Joy Gray, former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. In 2019, she wrote a piece for The Intercept headlined “A Problem for Kamala Harris: Can a Prosecutor Become President in the Age of Black Lives Matter?”

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Aimee Allison, let’s begin with you. Can you respond to Joe Biden’s announcement yesterday that Kamala Harris will join him on the presidential ticket as his vice-presidential running mate?

AIMEE ALLISON: Well, it’s hard to overstate how historic, how monumental this is. It’s a watershed moment for women of color across the country. We’ve worked tirelessly over the last three years, but standing on the shoulders of women of color who have worked as engaged citizens and as the most loyal Democrats to lead.

And for Kamala Harris to join the top of the ticket is not just a nod to our voting power, the necessity of women of color to turn out in historic numbers in November; it’s an indication that the establishment in the Democratic Party, who just four years ago could not imagine women of color and Black women being in executive leadership and in governance, now acknowledges that America needs the leadership of women of color, and so our time has come.

It’s a very exciting moment, and I’ve been hearing from women of color all over the country how thrilled they are. The move deepens the enthusiasm that women of color, particularly in battleground must-win states, feel about the Biden ticket, the Biden-Harris ticket. It’s going to get people to be able to see themselves more deeply in the campaign. And that’s going to bode well for a path to victory in November.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to ask, Briahna Joy Gray, your response to Vice President Biden’s choice. And what message is he sending in terms of what sectors of the electorate he is courting or he is deciding that he doesn’t need to placate with his vice-presidential choice?

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY: Yeah, I think there can be no doubt that of course this nomination is historic. But something else historic is going on right now, which is that we are in the middle of the largest protest movement in American history. And it’s a protest movement that’s all about finding nonpunitive, noncarceral solutions to the kinds of economic problems that are plaguing disproportionately Black and Brown communities, but all Americans, especially right now in the middle of this additionally historic global pandemic.

And so there’s a great deal of frustration that there is this choice not only to nominate a candidate who is known as the author of what is actually called the Joe Biden crime bill, but that he’s gone and also selected a running mate who is known for being the top cop from California, the state that has the second-highest number of incarcerated people in America. And moreover, Kamala Harris is someone who has had these criticisms leveraged at her throughout, very early on, at the start of her campaign, and, to many people in the activist community, has done very little to assuage people’s concerns about her previous stances or to demonstrate the level of growth that we would like to see.

So, I think that to the point that Ms. Allison was making about whether or not Black voters in swing states are going to be more inclined to turn out, what we saw from poll after poll is that Joe Biden had the base locked down, and he is often celebrating the fact that Black voters overwhelmingly voted for him. So it’s not clear to me what the the electoral value of this is, when you contrast that especially with the fact that younger voters, in particular, and swing voters are less enthusiastic about this campaign in part because they were looking for a kind of fundamental change in this campaign cycle, a desire that was only exacerbated by the health crisis and economic crisis that we’re in now. And Joe Biden has articulated very clearly that he is the candidate who promises that nothing will fundamentally change.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. That’s Briahna Joy Gray, former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential bid. And we’re joined, as well, by Aimee Allison, who is the founder of She the People. Stay with us.