A collective cheer (and sigh) came across the world when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 Presidential Election against Donald Trump. Millions of people celebrated this historic win, and it did not matter whether you were American or not. People were glad that The Orange Menace, aka Donald Trump, was finally defeated and his tyranny was finally over.
The reason this election was historic was because of one candidate. Kamala Harris, the Vice President-elect, was the first Black and South Asian ever to win the seat. Harris had a lot of support from women of color. This is especially true about young children, who were seen as strong and powerful female figures. Harris’s fame and popularity during the election and her policies were interesting to watch, considering her track record.
Before she was announced the Vice President-elect, Harris was the District Attorney of San Francisco. She then became the Attorney General in the same state. Finally, she was elected to the U.S. Senate of California. During office, she introduced a lot of programs to help and better the community. Harris’s stance on a lot of the political issues that she was against during her time in office is different from when she campaigned for the election. It was not just about winning for Harris. She was determined to rebrand herself as a progressive and modern candidate to convince her liberal voters that she and Biden were the right candidates. Looking back at her politics before the election, there are a lot of criticisms.
Kamala’s childhood and what shaped her career
Kamala Harris is the daughter of immigrant parents, Shyamala Gopalan and Donald J. Harris. Gopalan migrated from Tamil Nadu, India, at the age of 19 as a graduate student of nutrition and endocrinology. Harris’s father arrived from British Jamaica and completed a Ph.D. in economics. Her parents met during the civil rights movements and took Harris and her sister to the protests, rallies, and marches. At a young age, Harris understood that the country that she lived in was not friendly to Black people. She hoped to change that in the future. Harris had mentioned that when she was a child visiting her father in Palo Alto, she and her sister were not allowed to play because they were Black. Another incident occurred in elementary school. She was bussed to a different school in another district as part of an attempt to segregate schools.
From district attorney to the attorney general
One of her many controversies as her role as San Francisco’s District Attorney in 2004 was when an undercover police officer was killed by a twenty-one-year-old. Harris had promised never to impose capital punishment under her tenure, but the police chief and other Democratic senators had called to impose that rule immediately. She defied her party and colleagues but this does not mean that she was against the death penalty in her professional career. In her personal opinion, she claimed to be opposed to the death penalty but continued to seek capital punishment in federal cases.
The next controversial law that she passed during her time as Attorney General of California was adopting harsher punishments for the truancy law. Her campaign to bring a harsher version of truancy meant that if a child misses school consistently several times without a valid excuse, the parent or guardian of the child will be fined $2,500 or one year in jail. Harris’s war on truancy came with a lot of criticism. In 2013, Cheree Peoples was arrested and handcuffed for her daughter’s school attendance record. Her daughter was missing school because of sickle cell anemia which is a serious genetic illness that needs constant hospitalization.
The reason for criminalizing truancy
Harris’s truancy was harsh, and it targeted innocent people like Peoples to be criminalized based on a sick child’s attendance record. Harris believed that keeping parents and guardians in check or letting them face the consequences of the law. By criminalizing truancy laws in the state, it would mean that fewer children would become criminals or join gangs when they grow up. The program offered mentors and counseling sessions to both parents and children to teach them how to take care of them. Peoples was one of the six parents that were arrested that day for truancy.
The Larsen case
Daniel Larsen was an innocent man that was sentenced to twenty-seven years to life under the three-strikes law. He was wrongfully targeted by the police for pulling a six-inch-long knife from his waistband and throwing it under a car. Previously, he had been convicted of burglary, which meant that he would have a much harsher sentence. Witnesses had reported that it was not Larsen that had thrown the knife, but somebody else, but that was not taken into account.
It took almost eleven years for a judge to reverse Larsen’s convictions on the grounds of lack of evidence and incompetence of his attorney. During that time, almost 90,000 people had petitioned to release him from jail, and civil rights activists had called Harris to make the right decision. When Larsen was finally released, Harris challenged his release. This meant that he would have to return to court and fight to keep himself out of prison for a crime that he did not commit.
Harris’s war against sex workers
In 2015, Harris worked to block a court ruling in favor of gender reassignment surgery for a transgender inmate, Michelle-Lael Norsworthy. Harris was the Attorney General at the time. She argued that there was no immediate urgency to carry out the surgery. But Harris did not win this fight. Norsworthy won the court ruling and was granted the request for surgery. She became the first incarcerated transgender women in the U.S. to win a court ruling of that manner. This was a historic win. Gender reassignment surgeries are denied by prison officials, which includes hormone therapy, gender-affirming clothing, cosmetics, and speech therapy. There have been other cases where transgender women are mistreated in prisons.
When asked about this case last year, Harris was oblivious to Norsworthy’s case. She did not talk about the case directly. In her defense, she was not adequately consulted about the case, and her team wished that the situation would have ended a different way. She continued to defend herself by claiming that she worked behind the scenes to reverse the court ruling against the reassignment surgery. The action that led Harris to block the surgery would harm her reputation as she has claimed to be a champion of the LGBTQ+ community.
A progressive prosecutor
Even with all of the controversies and her position as a ‘progressive prosecutor,’ Harris has managed to hold onto most of her harsher policies till now. She believes that these changes were made to keep the community safe. Harris’s supporters will ignore her horrible track record and glorify her career, but she is selling a different image of herself. She has continuously terrorized Black communities through the prison industrial complex, publicly supported Israel, and committed to providing $38 billion in military assistance.
Harris was opposed to marijuana. She claimed that selling this substance would harm communities. Later in 2018, she signed the Marijuana Justice Act to support legalizing marijuana. She has recognized herself as a reformer, but her politics are at the moderate end of the progressive spectrum. Harris cares a lot about the issues that the communities face, but sometimes it backfires like with anti-truancy law. While the election may be a win for some people, it is really important to recognize when she is right and when she is wrong. Regardless, we must understand her inconsistencies in her politics.