When asked by her mother as a child what she wanted at a civil rights march in Oakland, she responded “fweedom”. For Kamala Harris, “it’s about freedom, it’s about equality, it’s about dignity”. As the drama continues to sweep across the United States and as Joe Biden emerged as the new President, there seems to be a greater light shone on the Vice President-elect.
Born in California on 20th October 1964 and first elected to the U.S Senate in 2016 as a Democrat, she has fiercely fought for civil rights declaring that “there is no vaccine for racism”. Throughout her career in law enforcement she has become immune to being asked why she would want to “work for the man” as a prosecutor, rather than defend the vulnerable staring down the barrel of a gun. As a child of one of the only two black families in a predominantly white neighbourhood to be “integrated” on the school bus, she simply explained that “law enforcement has such a profound and direct impact on the most vulnerable among us”.
Harris is the first Indian American to serve in the U.S Senate, as well as the second African American woman (but first! Vice-President). Interestingly, she worked as a deputy district attorney in Oakland, fiercely prosecuting cases including gang violence, drug trafficking and sexual abuse from 1990-98. A daughter to a Jamaican teacher at Stanford University (her father) and her mother an Indian cancer researcher, Harris was narrowly elected as an attorney general to California in 2010. Her determination for social justice and criminal law reforms have prepared her to take office.
Her book Smart on Crime (2009) is considered a “go-to” when discussing the problems with criminal recidivism and to keep the legal theme, later married attorney Douglas Emhoff. She has served on the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Judiciary Committee, with her questioning of U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions who was testifying on an alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election a notable feature of her career. Her memoir “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey”, was later published in 2019.
Her campaigning for criminal justice reforms have continued throughout 2020 despite the obvious disruptions, becoming a leading advocate for social justice following the death of George Floyd in police custody. She certainly has faced criticisms over the years relating to failures to investigate charges of police misconduct, with her later withdrawing from the presidential race in December 2019. It was in August that Joe Biden chose Harris as his vice presidential running sidekick, becoming the first Black woman to be featured on a major political party’s national ticket. So yes, she has bounced back.
She has been referred to as a “progressive prosecutor” due to her being the daughter of immigrants growing up among the swirling civil rights movements and her persistence in seeking change. Together with Biden, they are initiating a “tough on crime” stance that seeks to reduce incarceration levels and to reform the criminal justice system to become less racist or punitive. Despite Biden’s mixed views on the reform, she believes in ending the death penalty, solitary confinement, banning cash bail and creating programs that assist individuals to gain jobs instead of punishment through imprisonment.
With success, there comes criticism. Many have noted contradictions in her work that saw her defend California’s death penalty system in court but refuse to seek the sentence for a man who killed police officer Isaac Espinoza with an AK-47 assault rifle. However in her defence, it can be seen as a balancing act for the powerful attorney. The case of Jamal Trulove (a young black man from San Francisco) was fiercely prosecuted by Harris where the distinct evidence produced had indicated a high probability of innocence, with the Appeals Court later ruling Harris’ office had overzealously prosecuted his case.
Her rise has been a remarkable effort when comparing a U.S study that found more than 90 percent of elected prosecutors to be white and more than 80 percent to be male. Whether there are sceptics or those that scrutinise her efforts, she is fast becoming an icon who has just stepped onto the world stage. The 2020 Black Lives Matter protests that have swept across Minneapolis have provided a greater platform for Harris’ aggressive reforms to U.S policing, and her plight in “reimagining how we do public safety in America”. Rather than looking to policing as the sole cause of violence as a method of addressing crime, she seeks to shift the resources from law enforcement to addressing the “root causes” including poverty, education and mental health issues.
High school friends remember Kamala as the girl with big earrings and red lipstick as a 17 year old; the cool girl with brown skin. At Howard University, she was taught that “blacks cannot depend on the white man because he has crossed us too many times already.” She risked arrest to protest against South African apartheid with bus loads of students, and was a skilled debater throughout her education. Harris has always had a strong passion for social justice, and her fight has led her to the top of the United States totem pole. Interestingly, she volunteered during the 1984 presidential campaign of Walter Mondale, who made American history when he picked a female (Geraldine Ferraro) as his running mate, despite his loss to President Ronald Reagan.
However Harris has gone about it, it’s clearly working. Kamala has now demanded the attention of the world, and she will be the one to watch over the coming years.
About the Creator
I am a former criminal lawyer and whilst still working in law, am pursuing my passion to write on the side.
All about: crime, history, culture, travel and fashion.
Thanks for stopping by! Ciao ciao