by Chinaza Okonkwo, Guest Columnist
We are living in an unprecedented moment in history. For the first time in the American colonial experiment, two Black senators have announced their official campaigns for the presidency. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker’s recent onslaught of promotion has understandably gotten mixed responses from a public exhausted by the Tr*mp administration. As Black people, there is no doubt that we should celebrate this moment, but it is also absolutely necessary for us to be critical of these candidates. Critiquing the past policies of both Harris and Booker in criminal justice and education is necessary for us to make an informed decision come 2020. If we want to elect people that will have our agendas and the betterment of our community as priorities, education is the first step. So let’s start now.
While Kamala Harris self-identifies as a “progressive prosecutor,” the facts say otherwise. During her time as a prosecutor–when many were arguing for criminal justice reform and increased police accountability in the wake of high-profile police brutality–Harris opposed legislation that would require her office to investigate fatal shootings. She fought to uphold wrongful convictions that had been gained through evidence tampering, suppression of information by prosecutors, and false testimony.
If we want to elect people that will have our agendas and the betterment of our community as priorities, education is the first step.
According to the New York Times, “Harris was criticized in 2010 for withholding information about a police laboratory technician who had been accused of “intentionally sabotaging” her work and stealing drugs from the lab. After a memo surfaced showing that Ms. Harris’s deputies knew about the technician’s wrongdoing and recent conviction, but failed to alert defense lawyers, a judge condemned Ms. Harris’s indifference to the systemic violation of the defendant’s’ constitutional rights.”
Harris also championed a state legislation which proposed that parents whose children were truant could be prosecuted, an action that could disproportionately affect low-income families of color. Even now, as she is now trying to rebrand, there are many more regressive actions in her track record that merit examination.
While Harris has a problematic criminal justice record, Booker’s education policy also needs interrogation. Booker, a man who once praised Betsy Devos, was an early advocate for education reform who promoted private charter schools, shutting down public schools that were low-performing, and linking the payment of teachers to performance. These policies show a massive misunderstanding of the policies and structural barriers that affect low-income students of color where instead of seeking true education reform that rebuilds public schools and makes it higher quality, he advocated for shutting them down and supporting private charter schools.
As these senators continue to clean up their pasts in pursuit of likability, we can’t let them sweep their past mistakes under the rug. After all, any number of these policies could’ve affected our own communities and loved ones.