Kamala Shouldn’t Apologize for Being a Prosecutor

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Let the defense attorneys handle the defense, Senator Harris.

You were a prosecutor, so stop being defensive about it.

Kamala Harris has made a strong entry into the presidential race, with one exception: how she has handled her record as prosecutor.

She’s come under criticism, from some in California and from voices on the left, for her tenure as San Francisco D.A. and state attorney general. Such criticism is predictable. She’s a strong candidate, and Democrats have so many issues with the criminal justice system that any prosecutor would get grief for her record.

But Harris’ reaction has been unsettling—to deflect and obfuscate. She’s tried to frame herself as a reformer of that system, even though she has little record as a reformer. She’s a tough-minded, decisive machine pol from San Francisco, after all. She’s called herself a “progressive prosecutor,” another highly questionable claim.

The pandering to progressives isn’t convincing. And it’s just going to draw attention to flaws in her record.

She’d be better off owning who she was. She should say that she was a tough prosecutor and makes no apologies for it. She put bad people in jail. She could say she tried to keep the streets safe, and that public safety is the basis for all kinds of progress. She could point to declining crime in her city and her state.

If she has important progressive plans now on criminal justice, she should talk about those. But there is no need to re-litigate or recast her past record. And it’s pointless to try to separate herself from the criminal justice system.

She come entirely out of that system. She’s not credible apologizing for it. She should own it.

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