By Shakthi Jothianandan
In an interview with Baller Alert, Vice Presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris detailed her plans for “rooting out the systemic racism that still exists throughout our criminal justice system,” fixing the economy and her vision for racial justice in America.
When asked about the criticisms of her prosecutorial record, she says “I decided to go into a system that I knew was flawed to help bring about change and reform from within.” Her priorities for fixing the system include ending cash bail, private prisons, and mandatory minimums as well as “decriminalizing the use of marijuana, expunging convictions, and making sure no one is put behind bars just because they’ve used drugs.”
Harris went on to cite the economy as the most pressing issue a Biden-Harris administration faces second to the coronavirus pandemic, and noted the hit communities of color have taken in the wake of the Covid-19.
As for her and Biden’s broader agenda around racial justice in a fraught nation, Harris says “our country has been experiencing a long overdue reckoning on racial injustice.” Harris cites black maternal and reproductive care, the disproportionate effect climate change has had on BIPOC communities, and building black wealth as just a few of the areas that need to be addressed in tackling the far-reaching structural racist norms and institutions that perpetuate inequality and racism in the United States.
What do you have to say to members of the Black community who question your record as District Attorney?
I decided to go into a system that I knew was flawed to help bring about change and reform from within. I was the first Black woman elected DA in the state of California, and I used my position to create “Back on Track,” one of the first reentry initiatives in our country focused on getting young men — and particularly young Black men — out of the criminal justice system and into jobs and job training and education.
Whether it was my time as DA or as the first Black woman to lead America’s second largest Department of Justice as California Attorney General, or my time as U.S. Senator, I’ve spent my career fighting to ensure our country lives up to our ideals of equity, justice, and inclusion.
And if Joe and I are elected, we will continue to work towards those ideals in the White House by rooting out the systemic racism that still exists throughout our criminal justice system. Joe and I are committed to doing the work. That means ending cash bail, private prisons, and mandatory minimums. It means decriminalizing the use of marijuana, expunging convictions, and making sure no one is put behind bars just because they’ve used drugs. It means banning chokeholds and carotid holds, establishing a national use-of-force standard, putting in place a national police oversight commission that holds cities accountable, and so much more.
We know that we can reduce crime and build a more just criminal justice system at the same time. But we can’t do it alone. We need your help–and we need your vote.
Other than the pandemic, what is the most pressing issue facing this country or should be the first issue that their administration should focus on and tackle if/when they’re in office?
If Joe and I have the honor of serving in the White House, our first order of business will be containing this pandemic. Donald Trump’s failure to get this virus under control has cost more than 229,000 lives—with the suffering hitting communities of color hardest. And his failure to contain the virus has also led to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression—a crisis that has also had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Roughly 1 in 5 Black adults are hungry in our country, one in four Black renters have fallen behind on rent, and a staggering 40% of Black-owned businesses have had to shut down even as few Black-owned businesses benefited from the $2 trillion relief package Congress passed in April.
That is outrageous and unacceptable–and Joe and I will build our economy back better so it works for everyone. We’ll expand access to $150 billion in low-interest loans and new capital to communities that need them. We’ll provide funding for Community Development Financial Institutions in underserved communities. We’ll offer a $15,000 down payment tax credit for first-time homebuyers. We’ll encourage more lenders to provide loans to Black and Brown businesses. And we will embed racial equity across our economic agenda. But we can’t do any of that without your help, which is why we need you to vote in numbers no one has ever seen before.
What does racial justice look like to you and what do you think is the most effective path for us to get there?
Our country has been experiencing a long overdue reckoning on racial injustice. And if we’re serious about advancing justice and equality for all, we not only need to root out the systemic racism that still exists in our courtrooms, prisons, neighborhoods, and throughout our criminal justice system, we also need todeal with the structural racism that affects every aspect of our lives. That includes the disparities in health and health care that have made Black communities more vulnerable to the coronavirus. It includes disparities in reproductive care that leave Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die in childbirth. It includes dealing with the effects of climate change that disproportionately harm Black, Brown and Indigenous communities. It means making sure that Black students get a great education and can afford to go to college, Black entrepreneurs have access to capital to start a new business, and Black families can build wealth. The good news is we have seen people of every race, age, and background standing up for racial justice, saying Black Lives Matter. And if Joe and I are elected, America will have leaders in the White House who will stand up for racial justice alongside you.