Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris said Sunday that when it comes to racial disparities in the criminal justice system, President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr are “spending full-time in a different reality.”
“The reality of America today is what we have seen over generations – and, frankly, since our inception – which is we do have two systems of justice in America,” Harris told CNN, contradicting Barr, who told the cable news network last week, “I don’t think there are two justice systems.”
Harris said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that, adjusted for population numbers, Black men are more likely to be stopped by police without probable cause.
“There’s no question that we have seen an unacceptable incidence for generations of unarmed Black men being killed. Nobody can deny that,” Harris said.
“I don’t think that most reasonable people who are paying attention to the facts would dispute that there are racial disparities,” she said, adding that the judicial system has “engaged in racism.”
Protests against police brutality and racial discrimination took on renewed energy during the Obama administration. They resurged with even greater force after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer restrained him with a knee to the back of his neck. A second wave of demonstrations broke out this year after a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot Jacob Blake in the back multiple times, leaving him paralyzed.
During his visit to Kenosha last week, Trump disparaged the idea that Blake’s shooting or other recent incidents of police killing or injuring Black Americans were rooted in systemic racism.
“Reckless, far-left politicians continue to push the destructive message that our nation and our law enforcement are oppressive or racist,” Trump said.
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When he came to Kenosha two days later, Biden said, “Underlying racism that is institutionalized in the United States still exists, has existed for 400 years.”
Last month, Harris told NBC News, “based on what I’ve seen, it seems that the officer should be charged” in Blake’s shooting, adding, “I don’t see how anybody could reason that that was justifiable.”
Harris adjusted her comments Sunday, saying, “I’m not in full possession of the facts of the case.”
“But, based on what I have seen, I think that charges very much should be considered and should be considered in a very serious way – and that there should be accountability and consequence,” she said.
The judicial system must “require accountability and consequence for everyone who breaks the rules or breaks the law, and that includes police officers,” Harris said. “But everyone is entitled to due process, everyone, including police officers. And I encourage that. I support that. I think our democracy and our system of justice requires that.”
“I’m clearly not the prosecutor in the case,” she added.
Biden walked a similar line last week, telling reporters “we should let the judicial system work its way,” while also believing “there’s a minimum need” for the officer who shot Blake “to be charged,” as well as those involved in the death of Breonna Taylor – who was shot and killed March 13 in Louisville, Kentucky, after police forcibly entered her apartment.
When asked Sunday if charges were warranted in the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died in March after being forcibly restrained by police officers in Rochester, New York, Harris said she was “going to give the benefit of the doubt to the prosecutors who are involved in the case.”
To prevent future deaths and injuries caused by police, Harris said she and Biden have proposed changes like barring chokeholds and increasing “accountability for police officers who break the rules and break the law.”
“State of the Union” anchor Dana Bash pointed out that in her 2009 book, Harris wrote she wanted to see more police officers on the streets but in June she told The New York Times, “It is status-quo thinking to believe that putting more police on the streets creates more safety. That’s wrong.”
When asked about the apparent change in opinion, Harris indicated she would like to see more police officers on the streets.
“What I would say now is what I would say then, which is, I want to make sure that, if a woman is raped, a child is molested or one human being murders another human being, that there will be a police officer that responds to that case and that there will be accountability and consequence for the offender. Yes,” she said.
Harris said the most effective way to reduce crime in Black communities was to address economic inequality.
“If you go into any upper-class suburb in America, you will not see police presence, but what you will see are well-funded public schools, high rates of homeownership, small businesses that have access to capital,” she said. “And so, if we want to create safe communities, one of the smartest ways we can do that is invest in the health of those communities, because healthy communities are safe communities.”
“We have got to, in America, reimagine how we are accomplishing public safety,” she said.
Harris said that all of the reforms she and Biden have proposed are built on “recognizing that there are huge disparities in our country based on race.”
“And it does us no good if we want to solve those disparities to pretend they don’t exist.”
Contributing: Molly Beck, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Will Cleveland, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle