The Current

Rivals will 'cherry pick' on Kamala Harris's record on crime, but she's no Nixon, says author Carol Anderson

U.S. professor Carol Anderson says opponents of the Biden-Harris ticket may 'cherry pick' details from the senator's record to discredit her, but her broader history paints a more progressive picture.

Harris's record as California attorney general and district attorney in San Francisco heavily scrutinized

2020 Democratic vice-presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris ran for the presidential nomination herself, but dropped out in December. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)
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Critics of Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris may "cherry pick" details of her record on crime, but her broader history paints a more progressive picture, says an American academic.

"She brings a centre-left vibrancy and a commitment to the whole. It's a policy of inclusion, not exclusion," said Carol Anderson, professor of African-American Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.

"The kind of cherry picking to create an aura of one of those Richard Nixon, tough-on-crime folks, is just not accurate."

Still, Anderson said, "folks will try. I mean, that's what happens in elections. Folks will try."

Joe Biden has picked California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate for the U.S. presidential election. 6:53

Harris was announced as running mate to Democratic nominee Joe Biden Tuesday, making her the first Black woman and person of Indian descent who could potentially serve as U.S. vice-president. She originally ran for the presidential nomination herself, but dropped out in December. Her record as California attorney general and district attorney in San Francisco was heavily scrutinized during the Democratic primary and turned off some liberals and younger Black voters who saw her as out of step on issues of systemic racism in the legal system and police brutality.

The Current's guest host Duncan McCue spoke to Anderson, author of a number of books about race and politics in America, including White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, about Harris's record and what it means for the race to the White House.

What went through your mind when you heard Joe Biden choose Kamala Harris to be his running mate?

Joy, just joy. It is like the dawning of a new day after being under this Trumpian cloud we've been living under. To see a new America, the possibilities of what America can be.

What does she bring to the ticket, Carol?

Oh, she brings so much. She brings the power of her very presence as the child of immigrants, as a Black woman, as a woman of Indian descent, as someone who is sharp and smart. Even when she was a D.A., a prosecuting attorney in California, she was against the death penalty — so she brings a centre-left vibrancy and a commitment to the whole. It's a policy of inclusion, not exclusion.

California Sen. Kamala Harris challenges former vice-president Joe Biden on his previous positions on segregation. 4:07

You mentioned her role as a San Francisco prosecutor. She was also attorney general of California. She's been attacked on her record during those roles for being tough on crime, and she has said herself she was tough on crime as a D.A., policies that led to a lot of people of colour, in particular, being incarcerated. What do you think of those attacks on her record?

I think that they are pointed, in cherry picking. In that record, there is also her building of a unit in the division dealing with ending sex trafficking, particularly of young girls and treating them as the victims that they are, and not as perpetrators.

So when you see that kind of power being used to protect young, vulnerable girls — and that hadn't been there — you see that she also used her power to begin to diminish the role of prosecuting people for simple marijuana offences.

The kind of cherry picking to create an aura of one of those Richard Nixon, tough-on-crime folks, is just not accurate.

She had a tough time, though, when she was running for president to shake that Kamala-as-a-cop meme, that reputation. Will her brand of criminal justice be baggage at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is asking for much more?

I think some folks will try, but I don't think it is. One of the things that we saw is that she was there in front of the White House in the George Floyd protest. She has been very clear about the state-sponsored violence that identifies Blackness as criminals. And so I don't think it will, I really don't. As I said, folks will try. I mean, that's what happens in elections. Folks will try.

But this is historic in that she is really building upon a lot of the organizing that has happened over the decades of Black women, and the organizing of Asian-Americans as well. So this is historic.

You've written a lot about voter suppression that's targeted the Black community in the United States. How do you think this selection of Kamala Harris will affect that?

I think that it is energizing. I already saw — before she was named on the ticket as the vice-presidential nominee — massive turnout, even in the midst of a pandemic, even as states are trying to block access to mail-in ballots that can keep people safe while they are voting.

So I think that this just adds to the energy, the demand of the vast majority of Americans for a vision of the United States, leadership in the United States that is compassionate, that is competent, and that is inclusive, not exclusive. So I see it really driving even higher voter turnout, despite the voter suppression efforts there.


Written by Padraig Moran, with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Howard Goldenthal and Ben Jamieson.

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