Former Vice President and presidential candidate Joe Biden’s decision to select Sen. Kamala Harris, former prosecutor and attorney general of California, as his running mate in the 2020 election during a time of heightened concerns about police brutality is an insensitive action that warrants questioning from voters.
For years now, the United States has been grappling with the handling of police brutality. Certainly, this issue is nothing new, but the discussion surrounding it was reignited by the killing of George Floyd at the hand of three police officers in May, a tragedy that sent the country into nationwide riots and protests. This situation makes the Democratic Party’s decision to nominate two politicians who, in several stages of their political careers, were both deeply involved in the advent and continuation of the prison industrial complex, even more confusing.
The irony of a party standing behind Black Lives Matter while simultaneously pushing its base to vote for Biden, who was involved in every major crime bill from 1976 to 1994, and Harris, who denied transgender prisoners the right to gender confirmation surgery, is palpable. Biden and Harris’ decisive roles in mass incarceration — and the ways these policies negatively and disproportionately affected Black people as a result — must not be overlooked.
This piece is by no means meant to singularly critique Harris for her actions. Rather, it is meant to urge readers to avoid idealizing politicians — it is possible to exercise fervent support for a party while also acknowledging the dimensions and nuances, both good and bad, that define its leaders.
Voting is not a marriage to any one political candidate; it is a form of transportation alongside them. Voters may find that their values do not perfectly align with a candidate’s platform, but they should still do what they can to stand on the right side of history. It is entirely possible for voters to commit to support Biden and Harris in the presidential election while simultaneously acknowledging their past actions and the anachronistic nature of the Democratic ticket.
One of the most controversial aspects of Harris’ political past that has come to the forefront since rumors of her nomination was her involvement in California’s movement to reduce truancy, which was a massive part of Harris’ platform during her time as both a San Francisco district attorney and as the Attorney General of California.
In theory, being tough about having as few children be truant as possible sounds perfectly fine, but it was the application of the protocol that created issues for Harris. Her tough truancy policy, which involved threatening the parents of students who skipped school with criminal charges, led to her sponsorship of SB 1317, a 2010 state law that assigned misdemeanors to parents of students that missed 10% of school days without valid excuses.
Although, according to Harris, the law was not meant to criminalize parents, as the law offered parents the opportunity to avoid jail time if they improved the attendance rate of their children, several parents were arrested for their children’s truancy rates. Among them was Cheree Peoples, a mother whose child’s frequent visits to the hospital for sickle cell anemia treatment led to the Buena Park Police Department arresting her. Moreover, Harris has previously referred to herself as both a “top cop” and “progressive prosecutor,” titles that seem almost sickening when considered in the context of the current social climate.
To their credit, Biden and Harris have released statements in the past supporting Black Lives Matter, with Biden calling the recent protests a “wake-up call” on June 2 and Harris tweeting that Black Lives Matter was not “just a moment, but a movement” on June 11 in response to the protest in West Hollywood just a day earlier. That being said, when a quick Google search can find Biden’s previous quote concerning incarceration, “It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re the victims of society … They must be taken off the street,” in 1993 and Harris’s involvement in over 1,900 marijuana convictions during her time as a district attorney, these words are empty platitudes.
These were not isolated incidents either; for both Biden and Harris, their involvement in furthering the prison industrial complex were years-long commitments that served as the building blocks for their respective political careers. For them to then launch a presidential ticket for a party whose primary voting base finds itselfconcerned about the role of police across America is insulting.
Encouraging fellow Generation Z students to profess their support for these candidates without first doing the necessary research to understand their rise to prominence is similar to blindly encouraging one another to repost political informational Instagram posts without first stopping to do research on these graphics. It may be done with the right intent and heart in mind, but it is far less valuable without a proper analysis of the situation and study of what the Biden-Harris ticket really means if elected. No candidate or party can ever truly be perfect, and it’s important to both stand on the right side of history while also openly acknowledging a candidate’s shortcomings and striving to hold them accountable.