The crux of Wednesday’s presidential debate, and arguably the most entertaining segment of the evening, rested upon criminal justice reform. Tulsi Gabbard made the nation’s jaws drop as they watched her lob bold attacks on Kamala Harris’ history as a prosecutor, who failed to provide any adequate retort.
An articulate, honest woman—and an absolute stunner in her white suit—Gabbard set social media ablaze. But more than anything, it was the sharp jabs she delivered to Harris that made her the evening’s shining star. Frankly, Harris deserved each and every one. That said, Gabbard’s claims against the former California Attorney General could use some fact-checking.
“Now, Senator Harris said that she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she’ll be a prosecutor president,” Gabbard began, “but I’m deeply concerned about this record. There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.”
It’s true—during the time that Harris was California’s Attorney General, 1,560 people were incarcerated for marijuana offenses. And in 2010, she opposed marijuana legalization in California. Of course, Harris’s opinions have since changed.
Now, Harris openly supports legalizing marijuana. In an interview, she did laugh when asked if she’d ever used pot herself. And, in her new book, The Truths We Hold, she wrote, “We need to legalize marijuana and regulate it… And we need to expunge nonviolent marijuana-related offenses from the records of the millions of people who have been arrested and incarcerated so they can get on with their lives.” Perhaps this is all her meager way of apologizing to those incarcerated on marijuana charges under her reign as California’s “top cop.” But one thing is clear: she certainly didn’t take the debate stage as an opportunity to show the slightest remorse for her involvement in incarcerating hundreds for marijuana offenses.
Gabbard then claimed that Harris “blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so.” This is only partially true. Here, Gabbard is referring to the case of Kevin Cooper, who’s widely suspected of being innocent—though that has yet to be proven. He remains on death row in California for the murder of four individuals. But the bitter truth is this: as Attorney General of California, Harris refused to approve DNA testing that could prove Cooper’s innocence. She now claims she regrets this and is openly remorseful about it, showing some growth—growth she refused to acknowledge on the debate stage.
Gabbard lost her footing a bit when she brought up a 2014 legal skirmish from Harris’s office. “She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California,” she said. That’s a bit of a stretch. Gabbard was likely referring to an argument that lawyers of Harris’s Attorney General Office made back then, supposedly without her knowledge. They argued that non-violent offenders should stay in prison to provide cheap labor—a disgusting reason to keep people incarcerated. For her part, Harris was shocked that her office ever did such a thing.
That said, it was her job to ensure justice prevailed in cases the state pursued, and she failed.
Gabbard claimed that Harris “fought to keep the cash bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way.” This is strikingly true in every aspect. Harris vehemently supported raising cash bail rates even though studies show that cash bail disproportionately harms low-income individuals. After all, when accused of committing a crime, they can’t afford to buy their pretrial freedom—even though they’re presumed innocent. While awaiting trial from behind bars, they suffer the consequences. That means strained relationships with loved ones, lost jobs, and lost housing.
Harris claims she has changed her mind on many of the issues. But is it due to personal growth, or is she simply pandering for presidential support amid change in public opinion? That’s up to voters to decide. Either way, someone needed to call Harris out over her sordid record. Thank God that Tulsi Gabbard stepped up to the plate.