United States Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he has chosen Senator Kamala Harris of California to be his vice presidential running mate.
Harris, 55, becomes the first Black woman on a major presidential ticket in US history and provides Biden with a partner well suited to go on the attack against Republican President Donald Trump.
Harris, who made her own run for the White House before ending it and endorsing Biden, is an experienced politician already battle-tested by the rigors of the 2020 presidential campaign as they head into the final stretch of the November 3 election.
The daughter of an Indian-born mother and a Jamaican father, Harris has knocked down barriers throughout her career. She was the first woman to serve as San Francisco’s district attorney, elected to that office in 2003, and the first woman to serve as California’s attorney general, elected to that office in 2010.
She became the US Senate’s second Black female member in its history when she was elected in 2016.
Harris has portrayed herself as a progressive reformer during her own presidential bid, but some have cast doubts on that claim.
“Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Harris opposed them or stayed silent,” law professor Lara Bazelon wrote last year.
“Harris turned legal technicalities into weapons so she could cement injustices,” Bazelon, a former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles, wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times..
– ‘Liberal, progressive policies’ –
As concerns police brutality — a subject very much in the news following the death of George Floyd, a black man whose killing at the hands of police in May sparked nationwide protests — Harris has also been criticized for largely failing to intervene in cases involving police violence.
While serving as attorney general in 2016, for example, she opposed a bill to investigate deadly police shootings following the death of a stabbing suspect — shot 21 times by police — that sparked huge protests.
Harris, who is the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, has also come under fierce criticism for pushing legislation that would punish parents in California for their children’s truancy.
But despite her controversial record on criminal justice, Harris has also been lauded for fighting for progressive change.
Her most successful program, called “Back on Track,” called for non-violent first-time drug offenders to avoid jail by getting a high school diploma.
She also initiated a project for anti-bias training for law enforcement agencies throughout California.
But arguably her biggest achievement in the eyes of civil rights activists and also police, was Open Justice, an online portal that made a wide range of criminal justice data available to the public, including the number of deaths and injuries in police custody.
Many today are pushing back against claims that she did not go far enough in pushing for criminal justice reform, arguing she was being judged by unfair standards.
“I am a public defender, I work day and night fighting for justice in San Francisco … and the fact is that she did implement very progressive programs, period, end of story,” said Niki Solis, who faced Harris many times in court when she was district attorney.
Solis told AFP that harsh criticism of Harris to the effect that marijuana prosecutions under her tenure were too harsh was also absurd, considering the statistical data that speaks otherwise.
“She had very liberal, progressive policies regarding marijuana, everybody knows it,” she said.
Jack Pitney, a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College in California, stressed that in looking at Harris’ tenure as attorney general, one must take into account that she was a prosecutor applying the law, rather than a legislator.
“As attorney general of the state of California, she had to defend laws in court whether or not she agreed with them,” Pitney said. “So to that extent, I think the criticism is misplaced.”
He said that, if anything, Harris’s justice record should serve her well as the vice presidential pick.
“By the standards of California progressives, pretty much nobody can be progressive enough and if progressives are criticizing her for not being overly liberal as a prosecutor, that’s an asset in a general election campaign,” he said.
Pitney added that in the run-up to the November vote, conservatives will likely hit out at her as being too liberal.
“Their criticism will enable her to say ‘look at all these progressives, they are criticizing me for being too conservative. I must be just in the right place.'”