Kamala Harris is a prison abolitionist’s worst nightmare


Kamala Harris spent 27 years enforcing laws that target Black and brown communities through mass incarceration. These laws include the “three strikes law” implemented in 1994 and the “stop and frisk” policy.

In short — Harris is a prison abolitionist’s worst nightmare.

2020 has not failed in offering disappointments for leftists. First, we have had to deal with an administration that has not seemed to have any idea of what to do with a pandemic. Then, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had to drop out of running for president, leaving us with Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate. Now, the most recent blow, Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s Vice President (VP) nomination. 

At this point, I feel as if the government is trying to make its citizens hopeless.

As a prison abolitionist, this VP choice was a devastating blow to any hope for change regarding prisons within the next four years. 

Graphic by Kenzie Akins.

Prison abolitionists focus on decreasing and eliminating the prison industrial complex in order to replace them with rehabilitation programs and facilities without government institutionalization. Prison abolition began with Black Panther and feminist Angela Davis, who began to question the need for prisons in the 60s and 70s. As mass incarceration increased aiming at lower-income communities, prison abolition grew as a way to truly help incarcerated folks. 

Abolitionists have consistently stood with Black Lives Matter, seeing as prison abolition was started by folks who stood up for Black liberation. Mass incarceration is a major point of reference for Black Lives Matter activists, including St. Louis’s newest presumptive congresswoman Cori Bush. Prison abolition has seemed to have been holding hands with Black Lives Matter, offering a solution to a massive issue taking economic and emotional tolls within their communities. 

As the LA Times relays, there has been a lot of hesitation for Black communities to stand with Harris. Despite speaking on solidarity with Black Lives Matter or trans rights, Harris has historically implemented policies that directly reflect otherwise. 

Let’s start with the “tough on crime” wave that altered the way Democrats initially respond to crime.

These were policies implemented that focused on incapacitation and deterrence rather than rehabilitation. According to the University of Dayton Law Review, these policies have disproportionately targeted Black communities. 

So where does Harris fall into this? In the 1990s, Harris became a prosecutor in the state of California. At the time, the state was recovering from a period of notorious serial killers and the fear hit both Democrats and Republicans. The War on Drugs was also revived from Nixon in the Reagan administration and California became a battleground. Thus, the tough on crime policies hit the criminal justice system with Harris as one of the enforcers. 

Harris spent 27 years enforcing laws that target Black and brown communities through mass incarceration. These laws include the “three strikes law” implemented in 1994 and the “stop and frisk” policy. As Attorney General, she advocated in court for the death penalty and jailing of parents who have kids that were truant to many times. All these policies have contributed to a drastic increase of incarcerated folks while targeting minority communities in California. 

In California, Black folks make up 6 percent of the population but make up 29 percent of the incarcerated population. Latinx people make up 39 percent of California, but 43 percent of the incarcerated population. This is simply because there is a higher rate of policing in Black and brown communities. 

A prominent argument made by both Democrats and Republicans is  somehow these communities have a “higher rate of crime.” This is a false narrative considering there have been multiple studies that show white folks are just as likely to commit crime as Black folks. Harris fell into this argument by increasing the policing during her time in California. 

Harris’ treatment of trans people has also been in question.

As more protests arose over the summer, a common statement seen was “protect Black trans women,” bringing light to the awful issue of Black trans people getting murdered with no justice being served in their name. As trans people have also experienced oppression from the justice system, both Black and trans communities are showing unease about Harris’s historically transphobic policies. 

In 2015, Harris vehemently stood for the criminalization of sex work, which in turn took a toll on trans people of color in poor communities. In the same breath, she associated the transmission of AIDS and other STIs with sex workers as a reasoning for the policy, revealing stereotypes left over from the AIDS crisis in the 80s. 

One in six trans folks will be incarcerated in their lifetime and half of them are Black. These policies Harris has supported have increased the incarceration of trans folks. What a different story she portrayed from her trans visibility day post, right? Not surprising coming from a politician who prides herself on not showing her true colors. 

The US is now the world leader in incarceration with 2.3 million people incarcerated. Despite this social justice issue having been pointed out by social justice organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union multiple times, both Democrats and Republicans have continued to push for harsher policies including  Harris. Harris is a neoliberal representation of the Democrats’ attitude toward the prison industrial complex. 

I am not writing this to persuade anyone to vote for Trump, as if he would be any better for Black and trans folks. However, I believe it is necessary to talk about hypocrisies for any candidate, especially when one runs on issues they have previously, continually denied. 

I am especially angry at the Democratic Party for getting rid of the candidates that have a foundation support for rehabilitation rather than incarceration. I am angry at Joe Biden essentially saying, “I hear you on Black Lives Matter, let me hire a cop to fix this.” I am angry because the Democrats chose the worst tools in order to overcome modern fascism. 

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Kieron Kessler
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