Courtney Swanson
Jun 28 · 5 min read

After watching Kamala Harris’s stellar performance in the debates last night, all I wanted to do at first was bask in the afterglow. But I should have predicted the various camps that would be against her in her breakout moment.

The spin was in for Kamala Harris before she even launched her campaign, with handfuls of Washington Examiner and The Intercept articles churned out to push the narrative that a woman of color in the criminal justice system is somehow a bad thing. One can hardly share the several viral moments from last night’s debate without their mentions exploding with cries to “look at her record!”. I already have. And I’m happy to do it again.

In the earlier stages of Kamala’s long career in public service, she worked as a prosecutor — a career that is 90% white, and 80% male. Kamala knew that going into the job, and it was precisely why she wanted it:

“There are those who have questioned my motivations, my beliefs, and what I’ve done as a prosecutor. But I knew that it mattered who is in the rooms making the decisions, so I had to be in those rooms. We have to be in those rooms even when there aren’t many like us there.”

It is not being a “vagina voter” to want a woman in those rooms, nor is it “identity politics”. It matters that a woman is there, especially a black woman, and this is proven by her focus; reducing sexual violence, decreasing recidivism, lowering convictions pursued for low-level offenses, and protecting children.

During her time as a prosecutor, Kamala had a special interest in prosecuting crimes of sexual violence, which are notoriously difficult to win in court. That didn’t stop her from seeking convictions anyway because she knew it was the right thing to do. As Attorney General, she cleared the backlog of rape kits for 8 Californian counties. Not satisfied, Kamala pushed for grants and increased funding until the total number of counties was boosted to 46 out of 58.

As AG, she also brokered a meeting between tech company officials and the victims (and their lawyers) of revenge porn. After the meeting, Twitter banned non consensual sex videos and photos and Google launched a campaign to remove videos and photos from search results that were reported. Her words on the matter were clear, and powerful:

“First, don’t call it revenge porn. It’s not. People do it to torment people. They do it to make money. And to call it pornography is to misunderstand the problem, because there’s no consent. It’s “cyber exploitation,” and let me tell you how it ruins lives.”

As Attorney General, she created the Bureau of Children’s Justice to aid children in the foster system, provide resources to children experiencing chronic truancy, provide care for kids experiencing trauma, and aid students within the criminal justice system already.

Many people, particularly white liberals, have suddenly realized that truancy is one of their top concerns now that they can use it as a weapon against Kamala Harris. Jailing mothers for not sending their kids to school sounds scary, but it never happened under her jurisdiction. Struggling families were given resources, counseling, and warnings before ever being brought in front of any legal authority. Two parents were jailed outside of Kamala’s jurisdiction, and after her tenure as San Francisco D.A., because the students had missed a combined total of over 118 days of schools.

In California’s 2012–2013 school year, 1 million elementary school students were truant and 250,000 elementary school students missed 18 or more school days at a cost of $1.4 billion in lost funds to California school districts. Annually, dropouts cost California taxpayers an estimated $46.4 billion in incarceration, lost productivity and lost taxes. Dropouts comprised two-thirds of prison inmates in California, and 94% of homicide victims in San Francisco under the age of 25 are high school dropouts.

With those facts in mind, Kamala had damn good reason to fight truancy — and she succeeded. Truancy went down over 30%. Her goal was to reduce the school to prison pipeline, and she used the resources she had available to achieve it.

“I wanted to avoid a situation where those children end up being criminalized, some for their entire lifetime, because we failed them in the earliest stages.”

There are no shortage of people decrying that Kamala “locked up black and brown” people, which conveniently leaves out the fact that the number of people sent to prison during her tenure as Attorney General dropped every single year.

It is obviously true that Kamala Harris was a prosecutor. Sending people to prison is quite literally in the job description. But she was not “tough on crime” — she was smart on crime, before it was the politically savvy stance to be that way.

She created the Back on Track program as a D.A., which reduced recidivism and wiped the record clean for successful members, and expanded it as Attorney General. Other counties emulated the program and it was eventually expanded into a state-wide law. Kamala also established the California Division of Recidivism Reduction and Re-Entry.

“Everyone wants the police to respond when their home gets burglarized. Everyone wants accountability when a woman is raped, when a child is molested and when one human being kills another. We all want to be safe. What we don’t want is excessive force or for being black to be considered probable cause.”

Kamala also used her office as D.A. and AG to protect LGBTQ+ people. She created a special Hate Crimes Unit that focused on crimes against LGBT students, led a national conference to abolish the “gay-trans panic defense”, did not defend Proposition 8 in court, and when it was overturned, personally ordered for same-sex marriage licenses to be issued immediately.

The decision to not prosecute Steve Mnuchin is one that also had progressives up in arms. They point to the fact that he sent her donations for her 2016 run…which is true. A man with a $300 million net worth donated $2,000, which is a little less than the maximum individual donation. That’s what people like to call “fuck you” money, and it means literally nothing except that Mnuchin is a dick (which we already knew). The reason Kamala did not prosecute him is because she did not have the jurisdiction as a state law agency to subpoena OneWest. As soon as she was elected to the Senate, Kamala co-sponsored a bill with Elizabeth Warren called the “Accountability for Wall Street Executives Act” that would have allowed states to issue subpoenas in bank fraud investigations.

I wrote this article to defend Kamala’s past, but I am far more interested in the future she is proposing. Her plans are inspiring, yet feasible — a rare combination in this race. For more information on why Kamala is the one to watch in this race, check out her website, my previous article, and, as before, this excellent Twitter page.

Voters saw her soar in the debates, and they want to learn more. She can do this, but not without the media record being corrected, or her own record being defended.

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