20 votes

‘Top Cop’ Kamala Harris’s record of policing the police

9 comments

  1. [8]
    dubteedub
    Link
    I think this is probably the most comprehensive record of Kamala Harris's record as district attorney / attorney general in California. I know her record was looked at to some extent during her...

    I think this is probably the most comprehensive record of Kamala Harris's record as district attorney / attorney general in California. I know her record was looked at to some extent during her run for President, but now that she is largely seen as the most likely choice as Biden's Vice President pick, I think this is timely to take a closer look.

    In particular, I think that a popular narrative online has been saying “Kamala Harris is a cop,” along with a common meme calling her “Copmala.” I think this piece does some pushback on that narrative that Kamala seems to have often been at odds with many in the police department, starting from just a few months into her tenure as DA when she refused to offer the death penalty for someone who had killed a cop…

    During her campaign, Ms. Harris had opposed the death penalty, in part, as being discriminatory toward people of color, and she did not seek it for Officer Espinoza’s killer. Rank-and-file officers were infuriated. Heather Fong, the new police chief, called it an affront to those who “risk their lives for the sake of the public’s safety.”

    …. to her general interactions with detectives and other officers who would refuse to speak or even look at her…

    Timothy P. Silard, Ms. Harris’s former chief of policy and one of a number of current and former aides who spoke on her behalf, said Ms. Harris experienced hostility in the department from the beginning. He recalled commanders and homicide detectives who refused to speak to her or look her in the eye during meetings in which she demanded they solve more murders in poor neighborhoods. Instead, they addressed white men — her subordinates.

    … to her refusing to prosecute bogus arrests of black men that were profiled.

    From 2002 to 2005, Black people made up less than eight percent of the city’s population but accounted for more than 40 percent of police arrests. Mr. Silard and Paul Henderson, who was Ms. Harris’s chief of administration and now directs a city agency that investigates complaints about the police, said Ms. Harris told her staff not to prosecute arrests based on racial profiling.

    “We regularly received calls from officers saying: ‘We can’t believe that you’re discharging this case. This was a good case.’ Well, no, it wasn’t,” Mr. Henderson recalled.

    The article does acknowledge some cases where Kamala was not active on police accountability from her time as DA in the 2000s, and in particular as AG starting in 2011 where she was very reluctant to involve the state Justice Department in killings by police. I thought this bit about the (potential) reasoning behind not wanting to intervene was an interesting perspective that I had not considered.

    Brian Nelson, a top aide to Ms. Harris while she was attorney general, said she was reluctant to big-foot district attorneys, having been one herself.

    “The idea there was going to be some far-off figure that was going to be more responsive to the community didn’t seem right to her,” Mr. Nelson said.

    Though I can understand not wanting to step on someone at the district level, I think at this point it is pretty clear that the decision not to be active in intervening in these situations was the wrong decision to take, and it does seem that by the end of her tenure in 2016 she had adjusted her actions.

    Still, her approach was subtly shifting. During the inaugural address for her second term as attorney general, Ms. Harris said the nation’s police forces faced a “crisis of confidence.” And by the end of her tenure in 2016, she had proposed a modest expansion of her office’s powers to investigate police misconduct, begun reviews of two municipal police departments and backed a Justice Department investigation in San Francisco.

    Earlier this summer, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, she told The New York Times that “it is status-quo thinking to believe that putting more police on the streets creates more safety. That’s wrong. It’s just wrong.”

    Overall, while Kamala was not as progressive of a DA/AG that many would have liked her to be today, I think it is important to reflect that she certainly shifted her position considerably over her time in office, while also facing what seems like some strong backlash and racism from the police.

    I think it’s also important to look at Kamala in the context of the first black woman to be elected as district attorney in California, the first black woman to be elected as California’s attorney general, and only the second black woman elected to the United States Senate. I think Kamala has been in a remarkably similar position as Barack Obama in a lot of respects. In breaking through many barriers, both have faced a lot of the same push and pull of being black leader working to enable significant change while also facing the tremendous amounts of additional scrutiny that a white person would never receive.

    11 votes
    1. [7]
      AugustusFerdinand
      Link Parent
      Understatement. At which point during a six year tenure when the police are averaging killing someone every 4 months does it turn from "not active" to purposefully negligent in your duties? That's...
      • Exemplary

      The article does acknowledge some cases where Kamala was not active on police accountability

      Understatement.

      In San Francisco, the police killed 18 people during Ms. Harris’s six years as attorney general.

      At which point during a six year tenure when the police are averaging killing someone every 4 months does it turn from "not active" to purposefully negligent in your duties?

      According to the A.C.L.U., between 2005 and 2016, there were almost 1,200 police-involved killings in California, and in only two cases were the killings determined to be unjustified.

      That's one every 3.35 days. Note, those two "unjustified" killings are as determined by the police and/or DA. The others, such as...

      25-year-old, Manuel Diaz, was fatally shot in the back by the police.

      police shooting of Mario Romero, 23, outside his home in Vallejo.

      fatally shot Ezell Ford, an unarmed 25-year-old Black man

      shooting of 26-year-old Mario Woods

      ...were completely justified under her watch.

      In particular, I think that a popular narrative online has been saying “Kamala Harris is a cop,” along with a common meme calling her “Copmala.”

      Which is a narrative she built herself, she ran on a brand of being the "top cop" and now that her utter inaction is being brought to light because of the recent widespread protests and her advisors are saying it's not polling well in focus groups she suddenly doesn't like it any longer.

      Throughout her tenure, he said, Ms. Harris had “traditional prosecution, pro-police, instincts. She has always tried not to be a target of the police.”

      The Attorney General of California is the chief law officer of California and the state's primary legal counsel. The attorney general "[sees] that the laws of the State are uniformly and adequately enforced" and prosecutes violations of state law through the California Department of Justice, which he or she oversees. She simply didn't do her damn job. She stayed quiet on legislation to increase accountability. She refused to prosecute or step in as police kept murdering people. All because she was afraid of stepping on toes and didn't like that people may not look her in the eye.

      And by the end of her tenure in 2016, she had proposed a modest expansion of her office’s powers to investigate police misconduct

      Which is still "being considered" by California lawmakers. This proposed modest expansion is a wonderful way to put a period at the end of her time as AG. Her entire career has been an exercise in doing nothing at all, acting like she did, and trying not to make the police angry at her. Proposing that the office do more right as she's walking out the door is just another effort to avoid any chance that she has to deal with the confrontation that'll come from it. As the article plainly puts it...

      a career in which she developed a reputation for taking cautious, incremental action on criminal justice and, more often than not, yielding to the status quo.

      She oversaw more than 1,900 marijuana convictions in San Francisco alone and while only a few of those ended up with people serving time, conviction alone is enough to ruin lives. She actively fought a ballot measure for recreational pot in 2010, co-authoring the opposition argument and stayed on the sidelines entirely when it came up again (and passed) in 2016. She only came out in favor of it as she ramped up her failed presidential campaign with statements of:

      “We can’t keep repeating the same mistakes of the past, too many lives have been ruined by these regressive policies.”

      I wonder if she counts the ones she ruined or not. Harris is just one more do nothing moderate willing to look you in the eye and lie about what she supports. Biden/Harris is just the combination we need, the guy that wrote the crime bill that ruined lives and the woman that blindly enforced it.

      Open in case interpretation of that last sentence isn't clear /s

      I think it’s also important to look at Kamala in the context of the first black woman to be elected as district attorney in California, the first black woman to be elected as California’s attorney general, and only the second black woman elected to the United States Senate. I think Kamala has been in a remarkably similar position as Barack Obama in a lot of respects. In breaking through many barriers, both have faced a lot of the same push and pull of being black leader working to enable significant change while also facing the tremendous amounts of additional scrutiny that a white person would never receive.

      Fixed that last line for you. Harris and Obama are similar in many respects, the main one being they rose quickly through the ranks while accomplishing practically nothing during that time.

      15 votes
      1. [6]
        dubteedub
        Link Parent
        I believe this is the article you are quoting here for anyone interested in reading it. It discusses a new open-records law to provide increased police accountability that was passed last year in...
        • Exemplary

        According to the A.C.L.U., between 2005 and 2016, there were almost 1,200 police-involved killings in California, and in only two cases were the killings determined to be unjustified.

        I believe this is the article you are quoting here for anyone interested in reading it. It discusses a new open-records law to provide increased police accountability that was passed last year in California. Also literally the sentence just before the piece you quoted, says this "California has some of the strictest laws protecting officers from being held accountable for shootings in criminal court." I find it a bit difficult to blame Harris as DA/AG when the legislature has passed extremely strict laws which prevented her office from prosecuting cops.

        her advisors are saying it's not polling well in focus groups she suddenly doesn't like it any longer.

        I don't think it's fair to say that she has just suddenly changed her mind on this in 2020 when the article references her shifting positions as early as her second term as California AG.

        She refused to prosecute or step in as police kept murdering people. All because she was afraid of stepping on toes and didn't like that people may not look her in the eye.

        She was also the first black woman in this role and had an extremely tough balancing act that she had to perform as she, like every other black politician, faced much more scrutiny than any other person would in that position.

        Here is a piece from The Atlantic that I think is extremely apt here.

        A bitter irony underlies Kamala Harris’s exit from the presidential campaign. She lost, in part, because she couldn’t forthrightly defend her record as a prosecutor. She couldn’t forthrightly defend that record because party activists deemed it insufficiently progressive. They portrayed her as complicit in the unjust incarceration and killing of black and Latino men.

        Yet had Harris—especially as a black woman—been the crusading criminal-justice reformer that Democrats now want to see, she would likely never have been in a position to run for president in the first place. What doomed Harris wasn’t just the Democratic Party’s leftward shift on racial and criminal-justice issues. It was the party’s lack of sympathy for the very different political environment Harris faced just a few years ago, when women and black candidates faced intense pressure to show that they were tough on crime.

        Perceived softness on crime was particularly perilous for black politicians, who, research suggests, pay a price with voters when they call out racism.

        Perceived softness on crime posed an even greater problem for black women candidates because, as a 2006 study by scholars at Rutgers University and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee pointed out, women politicians were perceived as less capable of addressing crime than their male counterparts.

        After Harris refused to go for the death penalty for a guy who killed a cop, she nearly lost her next major election to a Republican when every other statewide Democrat won by double digits.

        Every other California Democrat running statewide that year won by double digits. Harris, running against a Republican who enjoyed overwhelming support from police groups and attacked her relentlessly for opposing capital punishment, won by less than 1 percentage point in what the Los Angeles Times called “one of the closest statewide elections in California history.”

        I think it is still fair to ding her on her faults and lack of more progressive action at the time, but it's also important to recognize just how different America was in its views in the 2000s and even early 2010s.

        She oversaw more than 1,900 marijuana convictions in San Francisco alone

        Since you didn't provide a source again, i'll just link it for you.

        While there were more marijuana convictions during Hallinan’s tenure, there were also a lot more arrests. San Francisco arrest data compiled by the Attorney General’s office suggests that 24 percent of marijuana arrests led to marijuana convictions under Harris, compared with 18 percent of arrests under Hallinan.

        ...

        Conviction rate aside, only 45 people were sentenced to state prison for marijuana convictions during Harris’ seven years in office, compared with 135 people during Hallinan’s eight years, according to data from the state corrections department. That only includes individuals whose most serious conviction was for marijuana.

        ...

        Despite the substantial number of convictions, many of the people who were arrested for marijuana during Harris’ tenure were never locked up or never even charged with a crime, according to attorneys who worked on both sides of the courtroom.

        Defendants arrested for the lowest-level possession would typically be referred to drug treatment programs instead of being charged, and weightier charges for marijuana sales would routinely be pleaded down to less serious ones, he said.

        Solis, who led the public defender’s office misdemeanor division for part of Harris’ tenure, agreed that her office only rarely prosecuted people for low-level, simple possession.

        “Kamala Harris and I disagreed on a lot of criminal justice issues, but I have to admit, she was probably the most progressive prosecutor in the state at the time when it came to marijuana,” Solis said.

        So despite a substantial increase in the number of people being arrested for marijuana compared to her predecessor, she still jailed only a third the number of people and deferred the vast majority to drug treatment without being charged, as well as pleading down more substantial charges that previously would have been prosecuted as felonies.

        Fixed that last line for you. Harris and Obama are similar in many respects, the main one being they rose quickly through the ranks while accomplishing practically nothing during that time.

        Come on. That is just absolutely ridiculous to claim that Obama did "practically nothing" during his time in office. The Obama admin brought us out of the Great Recession sparked by the Bush Admin, passed the first significant health reform in decades to dramatically expand healthcare coverage to millions of Americans, passed Wall Street Reform in 2010 to regulate the financial sector, negotiated the Iran nuclear deal, got the U.S. to sign onto the Paris Climate Change Agreement, passed tons of climate change orders to reduce emissions from cars and power plants, invested billions in clean energy R&D, helped get federal recognition for Same Sex marriage, passed the DREAM act to protect child of undocumented migrants, passed the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the charging disparity of cocaine and crack, passed the Fair Pay Act to protect wage discrimination against women, and the list goes on and on.

        To pretend that Obama did "practically nothing" is just a laughable lie.

        7 votes
        1. [5]
          AugustusFerdinand
          Link Parent
          So she gets a pass for not pushing to have something like that changed, but gets credit for "modest expansion proposal" as she walks out the door? Can't have it both ways. I think it's quite fair,...

          I find it a bit difficult to blame Harris as DA/AG when the legislature has passed extremely strict laws which prevented her office from prosecuting cops.

          So she gets a pass for not pushing to have something like that changed, but gets credit for "modest expansion proposal" as she walks out the door? Can't have it both ways.

          I don't think it's fair to say that she has just suddenly changed her mind on this in 2020 when the article references her shifting positions as early as her second term as California AG.

          I think it's quite fair, as she started her second term "outlining steps to make policing fairer and more transparent" and then refused to endorse AB-86, a bill opposed by police unions that would have required her office to appoint special prosecutors to examine deadly police shootings.

          She was also the first black woman in this role and had an extremely tough balancing act that she had to perform as she, like every other black politician, faced much more scrutiny than any other person would in that position.

          This is a constant excuse of every moderate, regardless of their skin color and gender. "It's a balancing act!" "I have to compromise!" "What if people don't like me!" They are all too concerned with reelection because once anyone gets into a position of power they suddenly have a really hard time doing anything that might risk them losing it. I don't buy these excuses; once you're the boss you set a timer for how long you have in office, grab the sledgehammer, and start knocking down walls. No conservative jumps into the office and starts asking liberals how they feel about them rolling back rights, enshrining racism in law, or any other atrocity. They just do it.

          After Harris refused to go for the death penalty for a guy who killed a cop, she nearly lost her next major election to a Republican when every other statewide Democrat won by double digits.

          And the race was rightly close because she made the wrong decision based on a flawed application of principles. Is the death penalty unfairly used against minorities? A resounding yes. Should the death penalty be abolished entirely? Again, a resounding yes. Should the death penalty be used if it is currently available in a very clear cut case with overwhelming evidence to the guilt of the charged party and where your constituents, the ones that you state you're trying not to upset with your actions, call for it? [Insert the rhetorical answer you hear in your head here.]

          I think it is still fair to ding her on her faults and lack of more progressive action at the time, but it's also important to recognize just how different America was in its views in the 2000s and even early 2010s.

          Except she wasn't competing with the views of America at the time, she was elected to enforce the views of San Francisco and subsequently California. Even if it's not explicitly stated, she's expected, as all politicians are, to take her life experiences into account when in office; experiences that should have her opposing the racist police state and laws that have directly hampered the advancement of black people her entire life. Her inaction on that front is a clear sign that she's utterly ineffective in a leadership role.

          So despite a substantial increase in the number of people being arrested for marijuana compared to her predecessor, she still jailed only a third the number of people and deferred the vast majority to drug treatment without being charged, as well as pleading down more substantial charges that previously would have been prosecuted as felonies.

          You read that backwards. She arrested fewer, but convicted more. Those 1,900 convictions are 24% of the arrests made, compared to her predecessor's 18%. She made it a point to specifically criticize her predecessor, Hallinan, over his office’s low conviction rate. So she very much earned that "Copmala" moniker she's trying to shake now.

          Come on. That is just absolutely ridiculous to claim that Obama did "practically nothing" during his time in office. The Obama admin brought us out of the Great Recession sparked by the Bush Admin, passed the first significant health reform in decades to dramatically expand healthcare coverage to millions of Americans, passed Wall Street Reform in 2010 to regulate the financial sector, negotiated the Iran nuclear deal, got the U.S. to sign onto the Paris Climate Change Agreement, passed tons of climate change orders to reduce emissions from cars and power plants, invested billions in clean energy R&D, helped get federal recognition for Same Sex marriage, passed the DREAM act to protect child of undocumented migrants, passed the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the charging disparity of cocaine and crack, passed the Fair Pay Act to protect wage discrimination against women, and the list goes on and on.

          Democrats always create economic growth regardless of their fiscal or monetary policies. The data is clear that it wouldn't matter if Obama was in the White House or it was (looks at also-rans) Tom Vilsack. The "health reform" was a fat check to corporate interests making for-profit health insurance a requirement by law. Dodd-Frank didn't end "too big to fail" like it should have and put such a regulatory burden on small banks that it's begun the process of them going out of business, further shifting the business and profits to (yep, you guessed it) big corporate interests. Iran he gets credit for. Paris Accords are a sham with no teeth to enforce it and only a bunch of politicians shaking hands for a photo op at promises to do something they'll never fulfill. Signing something on your way out the door and leaving it to someone else to do the work gets you no credit. Half of what he signed in regards to environmental action were "plans" that were never carried out or could be. The miserable failure of his cap-and-trade bill just led to an aggressive strategy of executive actions that mean nothing the moment someone else walks into the office. The Supreme Court handled same sex marriage, not Obama. Credit for DREAM. No credit for Fair Sentencing as it still kept crack as a higher punishment than cocaine and did nothing to address the racial disparity in those convicted for it. Why are Obama and Harris so keen on keeping black people behind bars? All he did with the Fair Pay Act was support while not in office and sign it when he got there.

          If you've got a problem with the determination that he did practically nothing, take it up with Brookings, but don't lie to yourself about it.

          3 votes
          1. [4]
            dubteedub
            Link Parent
            Harris was one point away from losing her AG re-election to a Republican when all of her Dem ticket colleagues won by >ten points. Do you think that a Republican would have been a better or worse...

            This is a constant excuse of every moderate, regardless of their skin color and gender. "It's a balancing act!" "I have to compromise!" "What if people don't like me!" They are all too concerned with reelection because once anyone gets into a position of power they suddenly have a really hard time doing anything that might risk them losing it. I don't buy these excuses; once you're the boss you set a timer for how long you have in office, grab the sledgehammer, and start knocking down walls.

            Harris was one point away from losing her AG re-election to a Republican when all of her Dem ticket colleagues won by >ten points. Do you think that a Republican would have been a better or worse AG for California? Do you think the residents of California would have been better off with someone who wanted to prosecute every one of those marijuana offenses to the fullest extent of the law?

            The fact is that elections do matter and winning elections is actually important. Divisive rhetoric and sledgehammer politics is not how liberals and leftists win elections.

            No conservative jumps into the office and starts asking liberals how they feel about them rolling back rights, enshrining racism in law, or any other atrocity. They just do it.

            Yeah, they are given basically free reign to do so because Republicans will vote for them no matter what and they do. If a liberal/leftist politician tried to play that same game then their support would evaporate.

            3 votes
            1. [3]
              AugustusFerdinand
              Link Parent
              The 2006 election had 4.7M democrat voters vs 3.2M republican, the 2010 election had her with 4.4M voters to the republican 4.3M. It wasn't the swinging of voters, it was the massive uptick in...

              Harris was one point away from losing her AG re-election to a Republican when all of her Dem ticket colleagues won by >ten points.

              The fact is that elections do matter and winning elections is actually important. Divisive rhetoric and sledgehammer politics is not how liberals and leftists win elections.

              The 2006 election had 4.7M democrat voters vs 3.2M republican, the 2010 election had her with 4.4M voters to the republican 4.3M. It wasn't the swinging of voters, it was the massive uptick in republican voters seen across the entire country in 2010.

              With very few exceptions to the rules, liberals and leftists don't win elections because there are none running. It's right wingers and moderates.

              Yeah, they are given basically free reign to do so because Republicans will vote for them no matter what and they do. If a liberal/leftist politician tried to play that same game then their support would evaporate.

              Except the party switching threat is a longstanding unsupported argument.

              3 votes
              1. [2]
                dubteedub
                Link Parent
                How does that account for every other statewide Dem winning by double digit percentage points then? I was not discussing party switching. I am just talking about turning out to vote. Republicans...

                The 2006 election had 4.7M democrat voters vs 3.2M republican, the 2010 election had her with 4.4M voters to the republican 4.3M. It wasn't the swinging of voters, it was the massive uptick in republican voters seen across the entire country in 2010.

                With very few exceptions to the rules, liberals and leftists don't win elections because there are none running. It's right wingers and moderates.

                How does that account for every other statewide Dem winning by double digit percentage points then?

                Except the party switching threat is a longstanding unsupported argument.

                I was not discussing party switching. I am just talking about turning out to vote. Republicans are more likely to turnout to vote for their party's candidate regardless of who is on the ticket while liberals and leftists are more likely to find a reason to stay home and sit out the election.

                3 votes
                1. AugustusFerdinand
                  Link Parent
                  Because with the exception of 2002 and when a republican wins there is almost always a double digit democrat winning percentage in California State Elections. Again, as linked above unless it's...

                  How does that account for every other statewide Dem winning by double digit percentage points then?

                  Because with the exception of 2002 and when a republican wins there is almost always a double digit democrat winning percentage in California State Elections.

                  I was not discussing party switching. I am just talking about turning out to vote.

                  Again, as linked above unless it's 2002 about the same number of voters show up for dems each time. So I'll just say to this:

                  Republicans are more likely to turnout to vote for their party's candidate regardless of who is on the ticket while liberals and leftists are more likely to find a reason to stay home and sit out the election.

                  Source?

                  2 votes
  2. MonkeyPants
    Link
    Fundamentally, I think it's a question of likeability. If someone is liked, the details are usually irrelevant, because you will still like them regardless. If someone is not liked, the details...

    Fundamentally, I think it's a question of likeability. If someone is liked, the details are usually irrelevant, because you will still like them regardless. If someone is not liked, the details are also irrelevant, because no amount of details will change how you feel about someone.

    1 vote