Kamala Harris on Crime
Democratic candidate for President; California Senator
A: I agree that the right to vote is one of the very important components of citizenship and it is something that people should not be stripped of needlessly, which is why I have been long an advocate of making sure that the formerly incarcerated are not denied a right to vote, in some states permanently deprived of the right to vote. These are policies that go back to Jim Crow. These are policies that go back to the heart of policies that have been about disenfranchisement, and we need to take it seriously.
Q: But those now in prison?
A: I think we should have that conversation.
Harris was asked if there should be "a federal equivalent" to Newsom's order. She said, "Yes, I think that there should be."
Asked if no one would be executed if Harris was president, she responded, "Correct, correct."
As California's attorney general, Harris defended the state's use of the death penalty. But in a statement this week, she said it is "immoral, discriminatory, ineffective, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars." She noted that black and Latino defendants were more likely to be executed than white defendants, as were poor defendants with poor legal representation versus wealthier defendants with good legal representation.
We need an America where no mother or father has to teach their son that people may stop him or kill him because of the color of his skin.
The strength of our union is in our diversity and our unity. We see the State of our Union in the formerly incarcerated individual who re-enters society looking to contribute and in the DREAMer who pursues her future in the face of uncertainty.
At the time, criminal justice policy was still trending toward things like harsher sentences or militarizing the police. More than a decade later, that attitude has, thankfully, evolved. Reentry programs like Back on Track are now part of the mainstream conversation. But in those days, I faced intensive backlash.
Though compassionate in its approach, Back on Track was intense by design. This was not a social welfare program. All of the first participants were nonviolent first-time offenders. Participants had to first plead guilty and accept the responsibility for the actions that had brought them there. We promised that if participants completed the program, we would have their charges expunged, which gave them more the reason to put in the effort. We hadn't designed a program that was about incremental improvement around the edges. It was about transformation.
In this country, you are innocent until proven guilty. The Bill of Rights explicitly prohibits excessive bail. That's what justice is supposed to look like.
What it should not look like is the system we have in America today. The median bail in the United States is $10,000. But in American households with an income of $45,000, the median savings account balance is $2,530. The disparity is so high that roughly 9 out of 10 people who are detained can't afford to pay to get out.
By its very design, the cash bail system favors the wealthy and penalizes the poor. If you can pay cash up front, you can leave, and when your trial is over, you'll get all your money back. If you can't afford it, you either languish in jail or have to pay a bail bondsman, which costs a steep fee you will never get back.
"Getting Smart on Crime does not mean reducing sentences or punishments for crimes," she explains in her book. As her website outlines, "Kamala believes that we must maintain a relentless focus on reducing violence and aggressively prosecuting violent criminals." Fittingly, when she became San Francisco DA, the felony conviction rate rose from 52 percent to 67 percent in three years.
Crime is not a monolith. Instead of a one-size-fits-all justice system, [we must] focus on the top of the pyramid and avoid treating all offenders the same. This approach has three pillars: maintain a relentless focus on reducing violence and prosecuting violent criminals, identify key points in the lives of young offenders to stop the escalation of criminal behavior, and support victims of crime.
Within her first 100 days in office, the Attorney General brought law enforcement leaders from across the state to California's border with Mexico to see firsthand the everyday problems that transnational gangs cause--the smuggling of guns, drugs and human beings across the border.
I believe that in the criminal justice system notions such as supply and demand, input and output, and looking for patterns are not abstract concepts. They tell us a lot about the effectiveness of what we're doing. When you measure, you can see quite clearly the results of making particular adjustments to complex systems. And we can apply the logic and principles of economics to fight against crime. It is crucial to ask how we can achieve the most safety for the lowest cost. We have spent billions of dollars on ineffective solutions that have not delivered the safety we must demand.
And today, more urgently than ever, I think all Americans want to spend our limited resources on those things that will deliver the most safety for the investment.
The problem is that we have been using only the tools best suited to combatting the offenders at the top of the pyramid, and we have been using them on the entire crime pyramid. Most nonviolent offenders are learning the wrong lesson, and in many cases, they are becoming better and more hardened criminals during their prison stays.
It's time to rock the crime pyramid.
These lower-in-the-pyramid offenders often have no job skills, and far more often than not are addicted to drugs. We quite appropriately arrest them when they offend and re-offend, but then we warehouse them in jails, which pushes them deeper into the grip of gangs and the culture of hardened criminals.
The Chris Kelly campaign, in an effort to emphasize the San Francisco DA's refusal to enforce the law, released a video that shows Harris telling an astonished reporter for the local KTVU news station that "she had never seen a case that merited pursuing the death penalty during her time as District Attorney."
Marianne WILLIAMSON: All of these issues are extremely important, but they are specifics; they are symptoms. And the underlying cause has to do with deep, deep, deep realms of racial injustice, both in our criminal justice system and in our economic system.
Kamala HARRIS: As the only black person on this stage, I would like to speak on the issue of race. Race is still not being talked about truthfully and honestly. There is not a black man I know, be he a relative, a friend or a coworker, who has not been the subject of some form of profiling or discrimination. Growing up, my sister and I had to deal with the neighbor who told us her parents couldn't play with us because we were black.
Harris addressed her law enforcement background in her book. She argued it was a "false choice" to decide between supporting the police and advocating for greater scrutiny of law enforcement. She wrote, "When activists came marching & banging on the doors, I wanted to be on the other side to let them in."
Harris supported legislation that passed the Senate last year that overhauled the criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to sentencing rules.
I knew the history of brave prosecutors who went after the Klu Klux Klan in the South. I also knew the legacy of Robert Kennedy, who, as U.S. attorney general, sent Department of Justice officials to protect the Freedom Riders in 1961.
I knew quite well that equal justice was an aspiration. I knew that the force of the law was applied unevenly, sometimes by design. But I also knew that what was wrong with the system didn't need to be an immutable fact. And I wanted to be a part of changing that.
Whether or not someone can get bailed out of jail shouldn't be based on how much money he has in the bank. Or the color of his skin: black men pay 35 percent higher bail than white men for the same charge. Latino men pay nearly 20 percent more. This isn't the stuff of coincidences. It is systematic. And we have to change it.
In 2017, I introduced a bill in the Senate to encourage states to replace their bail systems, moving away from arbitrarily assigning cash bail and systems where a person's actual risk of danger or flight is evaluated. If someone poses a threat to the public, we should detain them. If someone is likely to flee, we should detain them. But if not, we shouldn't be in the business of charging money for liberty.
If there aren't serious consequences for police brutality in our justice system, what kind of a message does it send to the community? Public safety depends on public trust.
But when black and brown people are more likely to be stopped, arrested, and convicted than their white counterparts; when police departments are outfitted like military regiments; when egregious use of deadly force is not met with consequence, is it any wonder that the very credibility of these public institutions is on the line?
I say this as someone who has spent most of my career working with law enforcement. I say this as someone who has a great deal of respect for police officers. It is a false choice to suggest that you must either be for the police or for police accountability. I am for both. Most people I know are for both.
Harris, whose own department is the first statewide agency to adopt a body camera program, waded into an issue that has sparked intense debate at the Capitol. One measure, Assembly Bill 66, has undergone several revisions to permit police officers in most jurisdictions to review footage captured on the cameras before giving a report of an incident involving force.
"We have a history in this country that we can be proud of and then there's a part of the history that we are not proud of," Harris said, adding, "But we also have to acknowledge that the relationship of trust is a reciprocal relationship, and everyone has a responsibility to be a part of leading that effort."
As Harris launched her presidential bid, she said she was running as a "progressive prosecutor." But she has drawn scrutiny from some liberals for "tough on crime" positions she held as a California prosecutor, with her stance on the death penalty among those issues.
As a district attorney in 2004, she drew national headlines with her decision not to seek the death penalty for the killer of a San Francisco police officer. That decision, announced days after the officer's death, enraged local law enforcement officials
However, a decade later, she appealed a judge's decision declaring California's death penalty law unconstitutional. While Harris has personally opposed the death penalty, she has said that she defended the law as a matter of professional obligation.
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2020 Presidential Democratic Primary Candidates:
Sen.Michael Bennet (D-CO)
V.P.Joe Biden (D-DE)
Gov.Steve Bullock (D-MT)
Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-IN)
Sen.Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Secy.Julian Castro (D-TX)
Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-NYC)
Rep.John Delaney (D-MD)
Rep.Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)
Sen.Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Sen.Mike Gravel (D-AK)
Sen.Kamala Harris (D-CA)
Gov.John Hickenlooper (D-CO)
Gov.Larry Hogan (D-MD)
Gov.Jay Inslee (D-WA)
Sen.Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Mayor Wayne Messam (D-FL)
Rep.Seth Moulton (D-MA)
Rep.Beto O`Rourke (D-TX)
Rep.Tim Ryan (D-CA)
Sen.Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Adm.Joe Sestak (D-PA)
CEO Tom Steyer (D-CA)
Sen.Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Marianne Williamson (D-CA)
CEO Andrew Yang (D-NY)
2020 GOP and Independent Candidates:
Rep.Justin Amash (Libertarian-MI)
Howie Hawkins (Green-NY)
V.P.Mike Pence (R-IN)
Gov.Mark Sanford (R-SC)
Pres.Donald Trump (R-NY)
Gov.Jesse Ventura (I-MN)
V.C.Arvin Vohra (Libertarian-MD)
Gov.Bill Weld (R-MA&L-NY)
2020 Withdrawn Candidates:
State Rep.Stacey Abrams (D-GA)
Mayor Mike Bloomberg (I-NYC)
About Kamala Harris: