Injustice for political gain

[Kamala] Harris, who served as San Francisco District Attorney from 2004 to 2011 and California Attorney General from 2011 to 2017, describes herself as a “progressive prosecutor­­­­.” Harris’s prosecutorial record, however, is far from progressive. Through her apologia for egregious prosecutorial misconduct, her refusal to allow DNA testing for a probably innocent death row inmate, her opposition to legislation requiring the attorney general’s office to independently investigate police shootings and more, she has made a significant contribution to the sordid history of injustice she decries.[1]

So Kamala Harris bloodied Joe Biden in a previous debate with the (accurate) charge that he collaborated with a segregationist to stop school bussing.[2]

At last night’s [July 31] debate, Biden, joined by Tulsi Gabbard, struck back. According to the Sacramento Bee:

[Joe] Biden alluded to a crime lab scandal that involved [Kamala Harris’] office and resulted in more than 1,000 drug cases being dismissed. [Tulsi] Gabbard claimed Harris “blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until she was forced to do so.”

Both of these statements are accurate.[3]

And Harris needs to do better:

[Harris] has since said she supports DNA testing and encouraged Newsom to approve Cooper’s clemency request. She did not offer specifics on why she did not approve the testing during her tenure.[4]

One of the basic problems with the criminal injustice system is that it emphasizes a vindictive approach rather than a restorative approach. We don’t really ask the question of how ‘offender’ and ‘victim’ are supposed to co-exist in society. We don’t even want to look seriously at why the ‘offender’ offended.[5] Which really means we aren’t nearly so interested in preventing crime as we are in locking people up and throwing away the key. Which, by the way, is largely what we do.[6]

In her roles as district attorney and as attorney general, Harris displayed an additional callousness, one that really applies to victims as well: If there is any consolation to victims in the criminal injustice system, it is that their supposed offenders are punished. Except that the process, even when honest, is profoundly flawed, which means that we don’t really know that their actual offenders are being punished.[7] And except that, as we see with Harris, the process isn’t even honest.[8]

This is not even remotely about justice, but rather the pretense of justice.[9] And as a society, we should be looking at that more closely.[10]

The charge against Biden, however, still stands. In opposing busing, he valued his political career over justice for Black kids in segregated schools.[11] And, in his work on the 1994 “tough on crime” bill, Biden repeated the same basic mistake, again pandering to popular positions largely at Black expense.[12] Which isn’t really all that different from what Harris did with her own dishonest application of ‘justice.’[13]

  1. [1]Marjorie Cohn, “Kamala Harris Has a Distinguished Career of Serving Injustice,” Truthout, July 8, 2019, https://truthout.org/articles/kamala-harris-has-a-distinguished-career-of-serving-injustice/
  2. [2]Scott Detrow, “Democrats Blast Biden For Recalling ‘Civil’ Relationship With Segregationists,” National Public Radio, June 19, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/06/19/734103488/democrats-blast-biden-for-recalling-civil-relationship-with-segregationists; Michael Kranish and Laura Meckler, “Joe Biden called busing a ‘liberal train wreck.’ Now his stance on school integration is an issue,” Washington Post, June 28, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/joe-biden-called-busing-a-liberal-train-wreck-now-his-stance-on-school-integration-is-an-issue/2019/06/28/557705dc-99b3-11e9-830a-21b9b36b64ad_story.html; Matt Viser and Annie Linskey, “Tensions ripple through Biden campaign as his past working relationship with a segregationist senator comes to the forefront,” Washington Post, June 20, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/tensions-ripple-through-biden-campaign-as-his-past-working-relationship-with-a-segregationist-senator-comes-to-the-forefront/2019/06/20/2518afe6-9394-11e9-b570-6416efdc0803_story.html; Matt Viser and Sean Sullivan, “Biden faces backlash over comments about the ‘civility’ of his past work with racist senators,” Washington Post, June 19, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-faces-backlash-over-comments-about-the-civility-of-his-past-work-with-racist-senators/2019/06/19/c0375d2a-92a8-11e9-b58a-a6a9afaa0e3e_story.html
  3. [3]Emily Cadei and Bryan Anderson, “Fact check: Did Kamala Harris block evidence that would have freed death row inmates?” Sacramento Bee, July 31, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article233375207.html
  4. [4]Emily Cadei and Bryan Anderson, “Fact check: Did Kamala Harris block evidence that would have freed death row inmates?” Sacramento Bee, July 31, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article233375207.html
  5. [5]Wanda D. McCaslin and Denise C. Breton, “Justice as Healing: Going Outside the Colonizers’ Cage,” in Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, eds. Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), 511-529.
  6. [6]Ernest Drucker, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America (New York: New, 2011).
  7. [7]Dan Simon, In Doubt: The Psychology of the Criminal Justice Process (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2012).
  8. [8]Marjorie Cohn, “Kamala Harris Has a Distinguished Career of Serving Injustice,” Truthout, July 8, 2019, https://truthout.org/articles/kamala-harris-has-a-distinguished-career-of-serving-injustice/; Emily Cadei and Bryan Anderson, “Fact check: Did Kamala Harris block evidence that would have freed death row inmates?” Sacramento Bee, July 31, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article233375207.html
  9. [9]Steven E. Barkan, Criminology: A Sociological Understanding, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006); Ernest Drucker, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America (New York: New, 2011); Dan Simon, In Doubt: The Psychology of the Criminal Justice Process (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2012); Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor: The Underclass And Antipoverty Policy (New York: Basic, 1995); Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004); Dan Simon, In Doubt: The Psychology of the Criminal Justice Process (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2012).
  10. [10]Wanda D. McCaslin and Denise C. Breton, “Justice as Healing: Going Outside the Colonizers’ Cage,” in Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, eds. Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), 511-529.
  11. [11]Michael Kranish and Laura Meckler, “Joe Biden called busing a ‘liberal train wreck.’ Now his stance on school integration is an issue,” Washington Post, June 28, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/joe-biden-called-busing-a-liberal-train-wreck-now-his-stance-on-school-integration-is-an-issue/2019/06/28/557705dc-99b3-11e9-830a-21b9b36b64ad_story.html
  12. [12]Ayesha Rascoe, “Booker Says Biden’s Crime Policies ‘Destroyed Communities Like Mine,’” National Public Radio, August 1, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/08/01/747118308/booker-says-bidens-crime-policies-destroyed-communities-like-mine; Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004)
  13. [13]Marjorie Cohn, “Kamala Harris Has a Distinguished Career of Serving Injustice,” Truthout, July 8, 2019, https://truthout.org/articles/kamala-harris-has-a-distinguished-career-of-serving-injustice/; Emily Cadei and Bryan Anderson, “Fact check: Did Kamala Harris block evidence that would have freed death row inmates?” Sacramento Bee, July 31, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article233375207.html

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