Editor’s Note: The following are remarks by Senator Kamala D. Harris at a town hall in Sacramento on April 5, addressing the tragic shooting of Stephon Clark.
To have this town hall about two months ago and as life happens, life happens and you can’t predict what is going to happen in two months and what happened between the time that we planned to do this and today are a number of things that have happened around the globe and around the country and right here in Sacramento. And in particular of course let’s think about one of the most challenging and difficult and tragic things that has happened recently to this community and therefore to us as a community, and as a state and as a country – the death of Stephon Clark. And so, I’m just going to address that right away because it is a priority and it should be a priority.
And there is no question that that was a life that should not have been lost. That is a life that should not have been ended. I spoke with his grandmother and when I think about the work of his family members, and friends, and this community in the face of personal and deep grief, being a voice of leadership around an issue that remains a national issue and doing that work of being those courageous voices and selfless in that way – my heart breaks for what’s happened. And I think about this issue for a number of reasons in many ways. I think about it in the context of the loss to that family. I think about it in terms of the work that I’ve done in my career, as a prosecutor.
Many of you know my background. I am the child of parents who met while they were active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. My sister and I joke, we grew up surrounded by a bunch of adults who spent fulltime marching and shouting about this thing called justice. And right out of Hastings Law School , UC Hastings Law School in San Francisco I made the decision to become a prosecutor. Some thought it a very curious decision, members of my family said well that’s interesting. My sister for example went on to head the ACLU. But I choose to become a prosecutor, why? Because as we all know law enforcement has a profound, profound responsibility and duty to be a voice for the voiceless and the vulnerable. And to do the work of in a system that is supposed to create public safety, also the responsibility to give all members of the community dignity. And that’s why I choose to do that work.
I’ve personally prosecuted everything including homicides, I was your Attorney General, which goes by the moniker of the top cop of yes this biggest state in the union. And when I look at all the issues that have been presented, by what happened to this young man I am looking at issues that have been challenging our country for decades upon decades upon decades.
I look at this issue through the lens of, what I did about three weekends ago when John Lewis invited me to join him in Selma, Alabama. To commemorate that historic walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And as we walked across that bridge we remember that about 53 years ago those young people walking, marching to say all people should have a right to vote, and in particular African Americans should not be denied the right to vote. As they walk that bridge faced the danger, the physical danger to their bodies of state troopers, armed forces that in some cases were used to trample on those marchers.
I look at this issue in the context of history. I look at this issue in the context of now being in Washington, DC. And looking at the United States Department of Justice being led by somebody who wants to take us back. Who is reviving the failed War on Drugs. Who wants to do all that was such good work under the previous administration to get rid of mandatory minimums, to understand that the disparity around sentencing as applied in particular to communities of color and poor communities have got to be abolished.
When I look at all the issues that have been presented, by what happened to this young man I am looking at issues that have been challenging our country for decades upon decades, upon decades.
The work that has happened understanding that if a system of justice in fact is just, meaning the law is equally applied to all, then we have to recognize that those in a position of power in control need to be honest and speak truth about the history and what is happening every day. Need to be honest and speak truth about issues like implicit bias and procedural justice. And the need for training. And the need to acknowledge the realities so that we can in fact have a just system.
I think about all these issues. I think about it through the lens of having been your Attorney General when after a series of years of dealing with this we have created in the California Department of Justice – the first implicit bias procedural justice training for law enforcement in the state. Which is now, the most recent numbers I have received trained over two thousand police officers to recognize that we all carry bias, we all do, but when your bias is coupled with the fact that you carry a gun it is something that has to be a priority for us. It should be a priority for all of us anyway. But we have been doing that training, understanding that’s the best practice.
And then this happens. And I grieve with this community. And there is a lot of work that needs to be done. And when I think about it, again, I think about it not only in the context of Sacramento and California but in the context of those people who are in the highest levels of leadership. And the need for them to really lead and lead us forward and not backward.
So we’ll have a conversation cause I am here to listen as much as I am to talk, so I do want to mention that.
By Kamala D. Harris
Kamala Harris is a U.S. Senator for California.