Fresh off her Howard commencement speech, Kamala Harris is back in the spotlight, doing exactly what senators are supposed to do: advocate for their people.
Harris recently spoke to Blavity about Jeff Sessions, healthcare and criminal justice reform.
Today, she was a featured speaker at the Center for American Progress’ Ideas Conference, and expounded upon the statements she gave to Blavity, while addressing troubling recent events from Trump leaking intel to the Russians to the firing of James Comey.
Harris had tough words for the president regarding the leaks, “As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I know that the men and women of our intelligence community put their lives on the line every day, and they do very dangerous work to keep our country safe … they should not have to worry that anyone, much less the Commander in Chief, might carelessly put their lives in danger by divulging the intelligence that they’ve risked so much to collect.”
Having told Trump off, Harris got to the meat of why she was at the conference: to talk about justice in America.
Before being a senator, Harris had a storied career in law: she started off as a prosecutor, and rose to the rank of California Attorney General.
As a former lawyer, Harris had a lot to say about Jeff Sessions and his Justice Department. Sessions, Harris said, has nothing but “outdated and out-of touch views … that are going to be harmful to our country.”
The first policy Harris feels to be dangerous came from a recent Department of Justice memorandum entitled “Department Charging and Sentencing Policy.”
What did this memo do?
Well, let’s let Senator Harris explain. “What it effectively did was to declare the reviving of the War on Drugs. The failed War on Drugs.”
Remarking on her time in the DA’s Office of Alameda County, Harris said, “I saw the War on Drugs up close. And let me tell you — the War on Drugs was an abject failure.”
It was bad for police officers she said. “Police officers and prosecutors dedicated extraordinary resources to non-violent drug offenses, which could otherwise have been devoted to unsolved homicides and violent crime.”
It was bad for the accused and for the courts; she recalled her time as a prosecutor during the war, saying that she and her fellow rookie prosecutors “would be handed a file of a possession case, a simple possession, and we’d have about 5 minutes to review it before we went to court. And then we would go in and argue for some sentence and that this person would be jailed.”
It was bad for communities. “During that time, and still, instead of focusing on prevention, we spent $80 billion a year in reaction. Locking people up. That’s money that obviously could have gone to schools, to roads, or healthcare.”
And it goes without saying, though Senator Harris mentioned it anyway: it was bad for people of color. During the war, she said,“We created a system where Latinos are two times more likely than white men to be incarcerated for drug offenses. Where African Americans are 12 percent of the population, but about 60 percent of the drug offenders who are in our state prisons.”
Who was it good for?
The proprietors of private prisons.
Those men and women felt their pocketbooks weep when the Obama administration put in place a plan to end the federal use of private prisons.
And those very same prison profiteers broke out the champagne when Sessions rolled that plan back.
“Let’s be clear about private prisons,” Harris said, “The business model is that you reap profit from incarcerating people. Let’s be clear about this … we should not be creating incentives to house people in prison. We should be creating incentives instead to shut the revolving door into prison.”
Oh, and guess what?
In that very same memo, Sessions did something else that made prison corporations very, very happy. Harris reminded us that he “advocated that prosecutors seek the harshest sentence available, including an increased use of mandatory minimums.”
What does that mean?
Well, it’s as simple as this: when you’ve found yourself in a minor bit of trouble, Sessions would like the law of the land to be that prosecutors be forced to go after the toughest possible sentence, the longest and harshest possible bid.
“Let’s be clear about that. Instead of going after drug cartels, and violent crime, and major traffickers, [Sessions] is calling for a renewed focus on essentially what is the neighborhood street-level drug dealer,” Harris said of the new rule, “Instead of addressing the core issues of addiction and getting folks into treatment, we’re going to overcrowd and build more prisons.”
Which of course, benefits those profiting from the prisons, as opposed to the general population of America.
And even those that are following the law may be in danger. “Sessions has threatened that the United States Department Of Justice may renew its focus on marijuana use, even in states like California where it is legal.”
“Well, let me tell you, what California needs, Jeff Sessions, we need support in dealing with transnational criminal organizations, dealing with issues like human trafficking. Not going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana. Leave her alone.
You tell him, Senator!
“That is not justice. That is not smart on crime,” Harris said of Sessions’ plans, “And I believe we have to stop this.”
“To fight Jeff Sessions and his old-fashioned, discredited, and dangerous approach to drugs, I believe we must embrace what all regions have in common and build coalitions,” she said, noting that the current drug epidemic hurts those in rural and Red areas as much as it does people in urban and Blue zones.
So what should we do?
“We need a national drug policy that finally treats substance abuse not as a crime to be punished, but as a disease to be treated.”
You and I, though, what does the Senator think we should do?
“The time is to fight not a War on Drugs but a War on Drug Addiction, and to take make more effective and humane approaches to our fellow Americans who are suffering.”
Sharing a little humanity — not such a tall order. I think that’s something we can all do. And, if you’d like to show Senator Harris a bit of support, you can contact her office at: 202-224-2200.