Kamala Harris

Okay, I know I said I would just write about the elections that impacted criminal justice, but the Presidential, and more specifically, the Vice Presidential election really do fall into that category upon further reflection.

I have not always been Kamala Harris’ biggest fan. Her rebranding as a progressive prosecutor felt a bit too convenient to me and, frankly, did not match her record as the District Attorney of San Francisco and the Attorney General for California. But, that said, this is a truly historic day for women and people of color.

Vice President-elect Harris has shattered the glass ceiling at long last. As a woman and person of color, and as a mother of a daughter, it is a hope inspiring moment. My hope now is that her embrace of criminal justice reform was not merely an election ploy, but something she intends to bring her unique experience to bear on as she assumes one of the most visible positions of power in the world. As far as I know, we have never had a person at this level of government with Harris’ depth of hands-on experience in the trenches of the criminal justice system.

While running her own campaign for President, she did not shy away from her resume, if at times casting it in a light much more favorable to the recent change in public sentiment from tough on crime to smart on crime. Her platform included ambitious reforms including legalizing marijuana, abolishing mandatory minimum sentences, ending the death penalty and solitary confinement, stopping private prisons, getting rid of cash bail, increasing funding to public defenders, and leveraging the president’s clemency powers to reduce the number of people in federal prison. She explicitly acknowledged that the decades of tough on crime policy has “created an unjust, unequal, and vastly expansive system that disproportionately harms communities of color and criminalizes individuals just because they are poor.” She has also called for a national standard on the use of deadly force and other police reforms.

Some of these are reforms that must be local in order to really work, but Harris has acknowledged this and talked about ways in which the federal government can incentivize and support local reform.

Importantly, Harris has already pulled Biden into a more progressive stance on criminal justice issues. During the primary campaign, Harris attacked Biden for his support of the 1994 crime bill making his selection of her as his running mate important both symbolically and from a police standpoint.

As I said, the ascension of a female of color to the second highest elected office inspires hope. My hope is that her evolution on issues of criminal justice is real and that she will use the very real power she now possessed to continue seeking to improve this deeply flawed system.