Assessment marked by the wait-and-see attitude, ex-prosecutor with a “tough” reputation that goes badly with some of the black voters and of Latin American origin, Senator Kamala Harris, chosen by Joe Biden to accompany him in the presidential election is not unanimous in his native California.
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“In California, Kamala Harris had the reputation of a prosecutor who waited rather than to show the way, who only moved on controversial subjects when she saw that they were politically viable”, summarized again last month the daily Sacramento Bee.
And to spill the political-legal shifts of Ms. Harris as District Attorney of San Francisco (2003 to 2010) then Attorney General for all of California and its 40 million inhabitants, until her election to Congress in 2016 .
In 2004, she opposed the relaxation of minimum sentences, which she nevertheless assured to want to reform when she campaigned last year for the Democratic nomination in the presidential election.
In 2010, she simply burst out laughing at a question about the legalization of recreational cannabis, a very iconic issue in California, which ended up adopting it in 2018.
Admittedly, she was not the only one at the time to drag her feet on these subjects, but the African-American senator, born in the protestant city of Oakland, certainly did not leave an image of “progressive prosecutor” , unlike the way she herself described her record.
“Repeatedly, when progressives urged him to invest in reforms of criminal justice (…) Ms. Harris opposed it or remained silent”, summarized in January 2019 Lara Bazelon, lawyer and former head of a Californian NGO fighting miscarriage of justice.
Ms. Harris “was too often on the wrong side of history,” she accused in the columns of the New York Times.
On police violence, a particularly sensitive topical issue, it has not shown great audacity either.
For example, in 2015, she abstained from taking a position on a bill aimed at making systematic independent investigations in the event of “use of lethal force” by a police officer. Cases that disproportionately affect the black and Hispanic populations (respectively 6% and 37% of the Californian population), many of whom still have not forgiven the lukewarmness of their senator.
Another decision drew criticism from Kamala Harris: in San Francisco, she had decided to prosecute parents of children who too often miss school, again often to the detriment of disadvantaged households from ethnic minorities.
“I believe that a child who has no education is the equivalent of a crime,” she had justified at the time.
However, Ms. Harris was also the source of initiatives well received by Reformers.
She implemented a program offering first-time offenders the drop of prosecution in exchange for professional training, and required all California law enforcement officials to train their officers against discrimination and other “facies” arrests. “.
For civil rights activists, but also police officers, Kamala Harris’ most emblematic success was the creation of an internet portal opening to the public a host of judicial data, in particular the violence committed by the police during arrests, to restore the facts.
“It really helped our movement a lot, because before that there was no place where we could find the numbers,” according to Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles.
According to Ms. Abdullah, who says she loves Kamala Harris “on a personal basis”, the professional past of the one who will be perhaps the next American vice-president does not pose real problem.
But she cautions Ms. Harris of her sometimes repressive rhetoric. “It may not go well with black or Latino people who would consider supporting her” and might think that she serves “a system that does not treat black people fairly,” she said during the race. the Democratic nomination.
In California, Kamala Harris paradoxically suffers from a lack of notoriety. Shortly before she threw in the towel in the nomination contest, the senator was only fifth in the polls, even in her San Francisco area.