Who Is Kamala Harris? Part 1 Of Series


By: Jordan Meadows, Staff Writer

Over half of Americans currently disapprove of the Vice President, according to the FiveThirtyEight. Americans know the name, the role, and the criticisms: do they know the person? Who is Kamala Harris?

The White House did not respond to requests for comment. Fortunately, Harris wrote a book titled, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey”, which was released in January 2019 – weeks before she announced her candidacy for President. The quotes attributed to Harris are found in those pages.

Harris is the 49th Vice President of the United States, and the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to be elected to this position – and many others.

Born to immigrant parents, Harris grew up in Oakland, California. Her father was Jamaican, and her mother was Indian. When Harris started kindergarten, she was part of Berkeley’s desegregation initiative to Thousand Oaks Elementary School, located in a neighborhood in northern Berkeley.

While studying at Howard University, she interned as a mailroom clerk for California senator Alan Cranston, chaired the economics society, led the debate team, and joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

After completing her law degree at the University of California, Harris was admitted to the California Bar in 1990, beginning her career in public service as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, CA.

“I cared a lot about fairness, and I saw the law as a tool that can help make things fair. But I think what most drew me to the profession was the way people around me trusted and relied on lawyers,” Harris said.

Labeling herself as a “Progressive Prosecutor”, Harris quickly propelled through the ranks; by 1998, she had risen to become the Chief of the Career Criminal Division in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, where she prosecuted a range of serious crimes, including homicide, burglary, robbery, and sexual assault cases. It was here that Harris honed her skills as a prosecutor.

After clashing with the DA’s Assistant over Proposition 21, which granted prosecutors the option of trying juvenile defendants in Superior Court rather than juvenile courts, Harris was reassigned – demoted – before resigning.

In 2003, Harris ran the Family and Children’s Services Division representing child abuse and neglect cases before preparing to run for the San Francisco District Attorney office. Although Harris was the least known of the three candidates, she emerged victorious in the lengthy runoff election and became the first person of color elected as DA of San Francisco.

Under Harris’s leadership, the DA’s office underwent a period of major transformation. One such initiative was the Back on Track program, an innovative reentry program for first-time nonviolent offenders aged 18–30. Participants received deferred sentencing and underwent rigorous requirements, including community service, education, and employment, in order to reintegrate them into society successfully.

The Back on Track program led to decreasing recidivism rates to less than ten percent compared to the state average. Recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice as a model for reentry programs, Back on Track also proved to be cost-effective, saving taxpayer dollars while promoting rehabilitation.

Harris prioritized addressing the root causes of crime, advocating for stricter gun control measures, and tackling domestic violence. During her tenure as DA, the city presented high conviction rates for homicides and felony gun violations, as well as the establishment of specialized units to combat hate crimes.

Harris voiced concerns about San Francisco’s relatively lower bail rates compared to neighboring counties, particularly in cases involving firearms. Her advocacy for higher bail in such instances led to an increase in bail rates for gun crimes, despite objections from defense attorneys. Harris has since changed her position, and in 2017 joined Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky to introduce a bill that would encourage states to reform their money bail systems.

“Some people were surprised I was so relentless. And I know some others questioned how I, as a black woman, could countenance being part of “the machine” putting more young men of color behind bars,” Harris said. “There is no doubt that the criminal justice system has deep flaws… But we cannot overlook or ignore that mother’s pain, that child’s death, that murderer who still walks the streets. I believe there must be serious consequences for people who commit serious crimes.”

In 2006, Harris spearheaded an initiative aimed at addressing chronic truancy (absence from school) among elementary school students. Recognizing truancy as a precursor to crime and incarceration, Harris’s office implemented strict penalties for chronically truant students, including fines and potential jail time for their parents.

20 parents in San Francisco were prosecuted for truancy in 2008. The total number prosecuted is not known, but the Los Angeles Times writes that no one was jailed. However, the Huffington Post provided some county-level data in 2019 saying that Kings County has charged 19 misdemeanors under Harris’ law in the past four years, and at least two mothers have been sentenced to jail.

Despite the controversy, the program was quite successful, with a significant reduction in truancy rates and a corresponding decrease in juvenile crime.

Harris wrote in her book that a statewide plan on truancy was one of the reasons that motivated her to run for office. She further explained that while Back on Track intervened later in life, she was equally concerned with early interventions “to keep children safe and on track to begin with.”

In 2010, both of California’s senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa endorsed Harris in her Democratic primary for California Attorney General.

Harris won the election, becoming the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to hold the office of AG in the state’s history.

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