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Op-ed

Dear Joe Biden: Please, Anyone but Harris

The California Innocence Project building is where I made my home last summer. During the two months I interned, I was able to learn so much about the broken criminal justice system. I learned about systematic racism in prisons. I learned about the difficult and emotional journey that many innocent people in prison have to face on their way to freedom. And above all else, I learned that with the right leaders in office, this process could become more simple. 

These are just some of the many reasons why I beg Joe Biden not to choose Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. 

Supporters of the potential vice president cite many different reasons for wanting her to win. However, many voters have given their support to the Senator following the rallying cries across the nation demanding Justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and countless other Black police-brutality victims. Subsequently, there’s been a shift away from endorsements of White women such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren. For candidates who didn’t perform well amongst Black voters during the primaries, such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar, their chances have fallen to the point of no return. Klobuchar took herself off the shortlist and urged Biden to pick a woman of color. 

But this is not good enough. Picking a woman of color is not a good enough excuse for diversity in this country. As a party trying to move forward in equality, it makes little sense for Democrats to pick a woman of color if her actions don’t match up with the demands for equality fueling her rise in power. In the case of Sen. Kamala Harris, a quick search into her record already sounds alarms for diversity and justice. 

Before Sen. Harris was elected into the Senate back in 2016, she served as California’s attorney general. A dive into her records at the time don’t look at all promising for the Senator. 

Take, for example, the July 31st debate in 2019. “The criminal justice system [is] disproportionately negatively impacting Brown and Black people,” Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said, “Senator Harris says she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor… she put over 1500 people in jail over marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana, she blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so.” 

Breaking down these two issues alone can reveal much more about Senator Harris. Her heavy opposition to marijuana during her time as Attorney General did put many in prison, but the important thing to note is that this was not a “tough on crime” approach. Around the United States, even though marijuana usage is relatively equal among African Americans and White Americans, Black people are 3.73 times more likely to get arrested from this usage. Sen. Harris’s brutal policy didn’t hurt White people even half as much as it hurt Black people and this in itself is an issue. As a symbol for diversity and equal rights, a vice president who is a woman of color should at least be able to support other people of color and advocate for equal rights. In Sen. Harris’s case, she drops the ball. 

Rep. Gabbard’s claim that Sen. Harris blocked evidence is also true. The Senator blocked DNA testing for prisoner Kevin Cooper, who currently sits on death row. When a New York Times piece covering Cooper’s potential innocence was published, Sen. Harris finally backed down from her relentless protests to block DNA testing. Kevin Cooper could be dead by now. 

It’s important to point out that Kevin Cooper is a Black male. If selected, Sen.Harris’s record would just further affirm that no party in the United States truly cares about equal opportunity. Harris, who was in full control of Cooper’s testing, didn’t want to give it to him. What does that say about her? 

At the California Innocence Project, inmates from all over Southern California can send mail into the office. These are then looked at by interns. On an average day, the office typically receives a few buckets stuffed with mail. Of the ones I was able to read, many belonged to people of color: particularly Black and Hispanic people. Kevin Cooper’s DNA test refusal worries me. If Sen. Harris is selected into office, who will speak up for those fighting for their freedom in prison? Who will speak up for their rights? Who will crack down on the broken criminal justice system? 

At the California Innocence Project, there are a couple of routes lawyers can take to pardon innocent people. They can file pleas for pardons from state governors, or they can fight for innocence in court. Both methods take years and both require large amounts of evidence. The methods to get prisoners out are already strenuous because the evidence needed is difficult to accumulate. Having a Vice President who blocks those rights makes the process even more tiring.

The case against Harris extends into her unwavering support of the death penalty, a process in California that still proportionately hurts Black people much more than White people. Although the current numbers are close, with around 261 Black people and 239 White people on death row in California, if you compare these figures with the numbers of Black and White people actually living in California, you’ll find the proportion to be much higher for Black people. Harris’s consistency in supporting the racist, outdated process, proves she is not progressive, she wants to move backwards. 

Joe Biden should not pick Sen. Harris. He should look towards women of color who, despite a lower name recognition, can uphold their beliefs properly. Sen. Harris’s consistent support for multiple racially-biased systems in the United States proves she has not changed. Her inability to recognize her mistakes makes her all the more flawed. If Joe Biden picks Sen. Harris, it will send a message that no one truly cares. If she makes her way into the spotlight as vice president, she will be attacked for this record. Casting Sen. Harris for the job, purely because she’s a woman of color, is not the right solution to targeting systematic racism. So please, Joe Biden, pick Rep. Val Demings, Stacey Abrahms or Keisha Lance Bottoms, women who stand up for their community.

By all means, steer clear of Sen. Kamala Harris.

Featured Image via CNBC 

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Joanna Hou
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Joanna Hou is a 17 year old high school student based in San Diego, California. She is passionate about current events, law, and politics. She is an avid writer, journalist, and musician (euphonium and flute). In her spare time, she enjoys reading and boba.

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