Professional Class Liberals’ Defense Of Kamala Harris’s Prosecutorial Record Reveals Rifts In The Democratic Coalition

After years of expectation, Kamala Harris predictably announced her presidential campaign this week. The Senator from California has long been a darling of the Californian political establishment and has plenty political and managerial skills to fit within the bounds of what is acceptable to much of the Democratic Party. Her record as a lawyer, however, shows a growing rift between progressive social movements and a carceral-minded liberal establishment. This divide goes to the heart of governance and the purpose of the judicial system and its relationship to democracy.

Writing for NBC News, Jill Filipovic lays out a defense of Harris’s record, citing the very real pressures put on women in male dominated fields, not mention people of color. From her article:

“Because there have been so few women generally, and women of color specifically, in positions of high-level political power in the United States, it becomes easier to caricature them or flatten their records into simplistic positions rather than taking into account the nuances of policy. White men, on the other hand, get to be complicated, have imperfect records, and be treated like individuals.”

All of these points are true enough, yet, besides a parenthetical note near the end of the piece, Filipovic ignores the toxic history of prosecutors offices and communities of color and working class people. Instead, her argument hinges on the standard liberal argument that simultaneously limits the political potentiality of oppressed classes while reinforcing a status quo built on that oppression. If we are serious about challenging these systems of power with these oppressed communities in mind, accepting conservative social handicaps is not being smart, but hopeless and easily reversed.

Presenting the moral travesty of defending the death penalty and helping keep an innocent person in jail for over a decade can’t be waved away with some community outreach or letting a few non-violent defenders off. These fig leaves should be the baseline for any left of center judicial officer, not some grand equalizing gesture that makes up for gleefully punishing parents of truant children.

We need people of color at the forefront of every movement for justice, not for some liberal piety, but to accurately represent the lives of those affected by the state. What we can’t be tricked into, however, is respecting politicians’ ability to step on and target vulnerable communities to help one’s political career as the “top cop” in the state.

Kamala Harris’s legal career is absolutely within the mainstream of high level democratic leadership, and that’s a big problem. When Filipovic accuses Harris’s critics, from legal scholar to shitposter, of excusing the legal career’s of white male politicians, she is actively ignoring those most affected negatively by law enforcement. To the most professionalized legal and political actors, these communities are a chance to prove your worth to the elite power structure. To Continue rising up the professional ladder, the most ambitious prosecutors are supposed to transform the potentiality of lives of our most plebeian and racialized citizens into political capital.

For many professional class liberals, their resistance to these critiques is a telling reminder of their values and status in the social hierarchy. In someone like Harris, they see themselves. They see someone who against all the odds sucked it up and bought into the ruling class. To folks like Filipovic or Aaron Sorkin, many of the critiques made against Harris on criminal justice issues don’t register at all. It would be a shame if the rest of country followed their lead.

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