California senator and former district attorney Kamala Harris is prefacing her 2020 presidential candidacy on having been a progressive prosecutor, branding herself as a candidate that is “For the People.” And for the most part, she has emulated this platform. From aggressively denouncing Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban to tenaciously questioning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Harris has surfaced as one of the Democratic Party’s most prominent candidates. Digging deeper into district attorney history, though, her deplorable criminal justice record ultimately diminishes her progressive authenticity. Rather than an advocating ally, Harris is an opponent of those faulted by the criminal justice system.
When she took the role of San Francisco district attorney in 2003, the city’s felony conviction rate rose from 52 to 67 percent in only three years, with most convictions being for nonviolent drug-related offenses. As the California attorney general in 2014, she tried to prohibit the release of second strike offenders from overcrowded state prisons in fear that the “prisons would lose an important labor pool.”
In addition to these discrepancies, Harris prohibited two trans female inmates from receiving necessary reassignment treatments and shut down escort websites that had often protected sex workers from exploitation and violence. Based on her history, Harris should call herself a regressive prosecutor.
“I can’t tell people how to vote, but I think there are definitely sex workers who would just sit out the election if the choices were Kamala and Trump,” sex worker and activist Phoenix Calida told Motherhood. “Neither of them are going to demilitarize police, neither of them are going to cut back on arrests, neither of them are going to stop locking up sex workers.”
Many have argued that Harris’ prosecution record is not faulty since being a prosecutor involves difficult decision making and an ultimate opposition to the fight against mass incarceration. However, the problem isn’t her position as a prosecutor, but the particularly flawed decisions she made in the position. Addressing her criminal justice history could possibly salvage her reputation, but instead she is displaying herself as a progressive prosecutor and blaming her own misconduct on the position itself.
Upon comparing her to former Philadelphia district attorney, Larry Krasner, Harris is placed in an especially poor light. In his time serving, Krasner ceased to charge sex workers with fewer than three convictions, stopped prosecuting marijuana possession, and instructed his prosecutors to calculate the cost of incarcerating everyone sentenced with a crime for a better image of the system. Progressively, the reforms he made were for the betterment of the defendants, the group in dire need of help. The same cannot be said about Harris.
With such a disgraceful criminal justice record, it is ironic that Harris is claiming to be the People’s candidate. It is as if those who she has faulted, many of them prisoners, do not belong to the group of people that matter when it comes to politics, serving as a reminder of the prevalent corruption within the criminal justice system. Today, entire neighborhoods, predominantly neighborhoods of color, are excluded from participating in politics through the practice of mass policing and incarceration. As she abided aggressively by the overzealous system of prosecution in her political history, Harris would never prioritize this issue in her Presidency, but realistically degrade it farther back as she did in California.