Kamala Harris Should Spearhead Police Reform Efforts in a Biden Administration, Allies Say

The selection of Senator Kamala Harris by Joe Biden to be his running mate has thrilled many Democrats and led to opposition and criticism from the Trump campaign, but as reactions to the selection continue to roll in, the question of what exactly Harris would do in a Biden administration has come into focus.

Democrats and Harris allies told Newsweek that should Biden win, he would be consumed by a shattered economy and reforging international relations with countries the Trump administration pushed away. Harris, they said, would be a key cog on police reform efforts for the administration as she has been in Congress, where she joined House Democrats to announce their police reform bill.

"I definitely have to imagine that was a big asset in her selection, knowing he has somebody who has been leading on this in Congress," Sergio Gonzales, a former Harris senior adviser, told Newsweek. Using her relationships with everyone from the Congressional Black Caucus to moderate Republicans, Gonzales said Harris could take on the mantle of shepherding reform efforts through Congress. Calls for reform after protests against police brutality spilled into the streets in states across the country in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

Despite criticisms of her past record on criminal justice, Harris has been heavily involved in police reform efforts in recent months as the issue of race took center stage this summer.

The House bill Harris helped introduce called for banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases like the one that led to the high-profile killing of Breonna Taylor, a National Police Misconduct Registry, and limiting qualified immunity which would allow cops to face civil lawsuits.

As part of its own criminal justice plan, a future Biden administration would institute an independent task force on prosecutorial discretion, which would exist outside the U.S. Department of Justice, "to make recommendations for tackling discrimination and other problems in our justice system that results from arrest and charging decisions."

Given her work in Congress, Democrats said Harris would be the perfect person to lead this task force.

"She has championed issues, like fixing police accountability, that are tearing at the fabric of our country," BlackPAC executive director Adrianne Shropshire, told Newsweek.

But the Biden campaign would not tip its hand on whether Harris would figure in to police reform efforts.

"Vice President Biden chose Senator Harris to be a full governing partner because she'll be ready on Day one to help clean up the mess made by four years of Donald Trump," Michael Gwin, Biden campaign deputy rapid response director, told Newsweek. He added that Harris would work side-by-side with Biden to unite our country "to finally stop COVID-19" and rebuild the economy through investments in manufacturing, infrastructure, and clean energy.

Harris also faced criticism over her record as a prosecutor during her presidential primary run, which activists said was insufficiently progressive on issues like requiring police to wear body cameras, which she supported after George Floyd's killing, and her past support for raising cash bail as San Francisco district attorney.

She also waded into the politically murky area for Democrats of defunding the police, which Biden has rejected, and many Democrats have studiously avoided, in an appearance on The View in June.

"To have cities where one-third of their entire budget is going into policing but yet there is a dire need in those same cities for mental health resources, for resources going into public schools, resources going into job training and job creation, come on," Harris said.

An email from the campaign shortly after the announcement said Harris' department of justice "was the first statewide agency to mandate a body camera program, launched implicit bias and procedural justice trainings, and created a public database, including data on deaths in police custody and arrest rates."

But issues of race and policing may take a back seat to continued fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and a bruised economy, according to a source close to the campaign, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. "My thinking on it is they will be hesitant to embrace what she wants to focus on because there will be such a focus on the circumstances of the country being in crisis," the source told Newsweek.

Beyond policing, however, Democrats and allies said Harris would look to take on the economic response to COVID that has disproportionately effected Black and Latino communities, as well as immigration reform, which Biden has pledged is a priority.

"I look at Kamala as taking a lead role on the health and safety and economic protection of essential workers because she has been one of the leading voices for cash payments and loan forgiveness," said Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, which works to increase the political power of women of color. "A good role for Vice President Harris would be leading an economic security task force that looks to address the economic pain of working people, because certain people fall through the cracks, like Black and brown communities."

"I really hope she has a leading role on immigration," Gonzales said, citing her work on fighting child separation, immigrant detention, and advocating for Dreamers. "There is probably no policy area where Trump has inflicted as much pain as immigration," he said. "A lot of repairing and rebuilding needs to be done."

kamala harris police reform
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) joins fellow Democrats from the House and Senate to introduce new legislation to end excessive use of force by police and make it easier to identify, track, and prosecute police misconduct at the U.S. Capitol June 08, 2020 in Washington, DC. Harris and lawmakers introduced the legislation following the recent deaths of unarmed African-Americans in police custody, including George Floyd, and the nationwide demonstrations demanding an overhaul of law enforcement. Chip Somodevilla/Getty