California Sen. Kamala Harris was a cop. In past presidential campaigns, Democrats have been rewarded for having a “tough on crime” background as former prosecutors, attorneys general, or district attorneys. But times have changed, and Harris’ law enforcement background has become a liability—something the senator and her 2020 campaign do not appear ready to fully reckon with.
Take this, for example. When Harris was San Francisco’s district attorney, she advocated for raising bail for some offenders, arguing that people were traveling to the city because its bail rates made it “cheaper” to do crimes there.
Per CNN, reporting on audio of a 2004 public appearance by Harris first resurfaced by the Free Beacon last month (emphasis mine):
Speaking at a May 2004 event, audio of which was first reported by the conservative Free Beacon, she railed against people who have been arrested in the city having to “pay a lot less than other counties.”
“And so people come to San Francisco to commit crimes because it’s cheaper to do it. You know, we have to do something about that. Those are the things that I’m spending my time on,” Harris also said.
As the network reported, her colleague reasoned at the time to a legal newspaper that raising bail was an effort to stop the city and county from becoming a “sanctuary for people hell-bent on violence.”
“We’re trying to address a public safety issue,” Russ Giuntini, the chief assistant district attorney told The Recorder in April 2004.
This, as far as I know, is not how people weigh the pros and cons of doing crime!
Cash bail is also a faulty, fundamentally unjust way to deal with crime, an idea Harris seems to have come around on, speaking out about the issue multiple times during the campaign so far:
Harris’s comments about cash bail—and their inconsistency with her record as a prosecutor—are the most recent example of a troubling trend in which Harris seems to gloss over criticism of her work as a prosecutor by touting her movement on these issues. In certain cases, like that of Kevin Cooper, a death row prisoner who could have been exonerated by thorough DNA testing, Harris appears to genuinely regret her past decisions.
Harris’s response to the recording of her talking about raising bail—she did not comment to the Free Beacon, but a spokesperson commented to CNN—is exactly what I’m talking about. There is some nuance to Harris’s aggressive push—she said it was intended to combat gun-related crime—but note the tone her spokesperson Ian Sams takes in his rebuttal:
Harris’ presidential campaign spokesman Ian Sams told CNN’s KFile that Harris was responding to an increase in gun homicides and illegal guns in the city and that her efforts today still take into account the threat a defendant poses when considering bail.
“Fifteen years ago, as gun homicides were reaching record proportions in San Francisco, Kamala Harris took action to ensure illegal guns or gun crimes were prosecuted and that those arrested for perpetrating these crimes were not able to easily endanger city residents,” Sams told CNN in an email. “Harris remains firmly committed to curbing gun violence, and her bill to reform the money bail system takes into consideration whether the defendant poses a threat to the safety of the community.
Harris, then and now, was right to push for stricter legal solutions to gun violence. But the solution to this complicated issue was the wrong one, so when her campaign attempted to spin her support of punitive bail measures as a positive thing because she was policing guns, her current plan to reform the cash bail system falls completely flat. Empowering an oppressive system is still bad, even if you do it with good intentions.