written by Valerie Morales
The ability to guilt a white man on a debate stage popularized Kamala Harris’ candidacy. But eventually it was relegated to the kids table because the ossification of Joe Biden couldn’t last. Biden is beloved in certain parts of the country because of his proximity to Barack Obama. And presidential qualifications are more detailed than what one debate night can offer. Such as, what are you going to do about greenhouse gases? And, why the flip-flop on Medicare for All?
After debate number one delivered Senator Kamala Harris her seminal moment, the urge to linger in that sacred place of gotcha politics reduced her to an example rather than an exception. But here’s the real. She couldn’t deliver on the next. She offered on the debate stage an explosive confessional that became anecdotal instead of foundational. It wasn’t a bridge. Or, to be more plain, she wrote a check she could not cash.
In recent weeks, Kamala Harris, no longer a novelty, has been unwilling to defend her prosecutorial past when attacked by rivals, nor has she rerouted the idea that she celebrated mass incarceration. If you take the black woman ascension out of it, the rest of her identity (locking black men up) has soured the romance about a candidacy that was supposed to anoint her as the anti-Hillary.
In a perfect world, the Kamala narrative should marinate us in her positives. Excellence in education. Ambitious and biracial. Hard working. Law and order achievements, and of course, she is a tough ass politician that gets things done. But her record shapes her nuances as a cautionary- look real hard before you leap- tale.
How is it that a woman of color wanted to lock up as many black and brown people, and white too, to boost her conviction rates? Or perhaps, we should be asking why. Why did she fight strategies to solve overcrowding in California prisons once the Supreme Court said it was cruel? Why did she shrug when presented with prosecutorial misconduct?
Kamala Harris isn’t a stone slab. She did care about guilty verdicts but she was grossly disinterested in the falsely accused and overcharged. She didn’t care that Jamal Truelove was slotted to die in prison for a crime he did not commit. And that is the point.
Jamal Trulove is why Kamala Harris can never win the presidency.
Jamal Trulove served six years of a 50 year sentence because he was framed by the police and implicated by a so-called eyewitness who was coerced into falsely identifying him. Prosecutors tried to discredit another witness, a young male who overheard the primary eyewitness say it wasn’t Trulove who committed the murder. More despicable tactics: a police report was hidden from the judge. The police wrote notes in pencil so they could be erased.
Jamal Trulove’s prosecutor was Kamala Harris’ deputy. Harris could have stepped in at any moment and changed the trajectory of the case, pointing out the problems with Trulove’s prosecution. But Kamala Harris called the eyewitness who put Truelove in prison with a lie “brave.”
Her repeated self-reference as a progressive is the real lie. Progressives are committed to prison reform. A history of brown people lockups reminds progressives of the new Jim Crow.
In the second primary debate, Tulsi Gabbard turned her venom on Harris’ mass incarceration policy but not because she has this heightened empathy for Californians who were railroaded on the Kamala Harris watch. Gabbard had no other alternative than to come after Harris in order to increase her recognition and while her strategy was sound, her message was sobering. Under Harris, the state of California imprisoned 1,500 for marijuana violations. Gabbard referred to a man on death row whose evidence of innocence Harris blocked, but Gabbard didn’t name that man as Trulove. Trulove thinks it was him since he was sentenced to death by virtue of a 50 year sentence. Whether it was him or not is irrelevant. Kamala Harris used black and brown men as props for her career. She cared only about the numbers she could use as a stepping stone for higher office. There were casualties she inflicted. There was mercy she denied. That changes the soul of a man. (Jamal Trulove received a $13.1 million judgement after suing the police.)
It’s easy to frame Kamala Harris and Hillary Clinton in the same breath: hyper-ambitious with a Machiavellian silhouette. The end justifies the means. In Harris’ case, she wants to be a prosecutor president but rarely conjugates what a prosecutor is for the rest of us. They often lock the wrong people up and rarely, if ever, atone for their mistake. That isn’t much different than the current president who is loathe to admit his weekly errors. Like Harris, he lacks empathy for the railroaded and the oppressed.
Prosecutors have a belief system of good and evil. Their crusade is often Gordon Gekko on the down-low. They disguise their greed as they try to stamp evil out and search for justice. The search can be flawed if it is not centered in truth.
Often, it is what prosecutors want to believe in the aggregate rather than what really is true. The Central Park 5. The Scottsboro Boys. The Trenton 6. Lena Baker. All were victims of prosecutors racial bias, prejudice, or just wanting to up their conviction rate; any black body would do. There is a reason why in 1994 Susan Smith’s victimization was embraced and a so called black man carjacker was blamed and not Smith herself. The culture believes black men are violent, pathological, unnecessary, and redemption phobic. Prosecutors buy into the racist propaganda. Yes, some black men do commit horrific crimes. But so do some white men. However, one group is singled out and socially exiled while the other group is hiding in plain sight.
The night Harry Connick Sr., father of the famed jazz singer and humanitarian, called my house I picked up the phone. He wanted to let me (and my husband) know of the trial date and he pleaded with me to bring my kindergartner to New Orleans. Connick Sr. was the District Attorney of New Orleans and his office was prosecuting the young man who suffocated my mother in law with her pillow, moved into her house, sold her possessions to manage his crack habit, partied, drove her car, ate her food, all the while her dead body was down the hall.
After trial delays, it was finally on the docket and Connick Sr. wanted to reassure my husband and I. He wanted me to bring my 5 year old so the jury could see the consequence of murder, what it does to a family. D.A. Connick was kind and empathic. The phone call was short but I will never forgot it.
That is my personal experience with prosecutors. They work for justice on behalf of crippled families. They represent the murdered in a court of law and hold their killers accountable. But their responsibility is to search for the truth and they make mistakes. Some are human errors. Others are racial bias and taking the path of least resistance.
Kamala Harris doesn’t care about the Jamal Trulove’s of the world. The wrongly incarcerated. The in jail for too long. The can’t afford bail. The abused by the system and the police. Kamala Harris is the system and that isn’t the requisite value you need in a president who has to shape policy and correct injustice and identify the immoral and atone for mistakes. She dismisses mercy. That’s Trumpian too.
Supporters acknowledge her history of mass incarceration but Oprah-ize her behavior. They say she knows better now, so she will do better. But Harris didn’t use that kind of moral relativism when berating Joe Biden about his past. If Joe Biden’s past matters on busing and Anita Hill, Kamala Harris’ Jamal Trulove past is also relevant.
Behind her back, critics call Kamala Harris “cop”. It implies the worst about womanhood. Rigid. Unfeeling. Biased. “When you’ve locked up more black Americans than George Wallace, it’s hard for you to be the greatest civil rights advocate in American History” a Republican strategist taunted, a signal of their strategy if she gets the nomination, which is a longshot at best. She hasn’t made a case of why not Joe Biden, and worse, she has been particularly tone-deaf regarding her mass incarceration past. She wants to be someone she has never been, as if she can snap her fingers like Glinda the good witch and her makeover is complete with ruby slippers.
For Harris to have any shot, she has to perform exceptionally well among black voters. But older black voters like my mother prefer Joe Biden because of his relationship with Barack Obama, whom they are devoted to. Younger black voters are dedicated to prison reform and policy, and the erasure of mass incarceration injustice, as well as police accountability.
Kamala Harris is invisible to one group and despised by the other. She is treading water in a nearly frozen pond, hoping not to drown or freeze. Unable to create a message African Americans have ownership of is her glaring failure.
When it was Hillary Clinton, it was simple: we didn’t like her. With Kamala Harris, it is even simpler, no translation needed. We don’t trust her.