January 21, 2019


A Problem for Kamala Harris: Can a Prosecutor Become President in the Age of Black Lives Matter? (Briahna Gray, January 20 2019, The Intercept)

KAMALA HARRIS HAS a prosecutor problem.

She's running for president as a progressive, but as attorney general of California, she criminalized truancy -- making it a crime for kids to be late for school, and dragging into the criminal justice system even more disproportionately low income, predominantly black and latino families. She's overlooked the misconduct of her prosecutors and fought to uphold their wrongfully secured convictions. She defended California's choice to deny sexual reassignment surgery to a trans inmate, and in 2014, appealed a federal judge's holding that the death penalty was unconstitutional.

The list goes on and on. But in some ways the details don't matter. The problem isn't that Harris was an especially bad prosecutor. She made positive contributions as well -- encouraging education and reentry programs for ex-offenders, for instance. The problem, more precisely, is that she was ever a prosecutor at all.

To become a prosecutor is to make a choice to align oneself with a powerful and fundamentally biased system. As Paul Butler, former prosecutor and author of "Chokehold: Policing Black Men," told The Guardian, "as a lawyer who went to law school with a goal of helping black people and using my legal skills to make things better, the realization that the law itself was a mechanism to keep African American people down was frightening." He added, "Lawyers are competitive and ambitious, and the way that manifests itself in a prosecutor's office is you want to get tough sentences. I got caught up in that world. You feel like you're doing the Lord's work -- you tell yourselves that you're helping the community."

Posted by at January 21, 2019 12:00 AM