Words by Kia Thomas
Illustration by Katie Herchenroeder
Excitement and tensions arose within the black community as Senator Cory Booker and Senator Kamala Harris announced their presidential campaigns within days of each other. Harris announced her bid on January 21, the reverend Martin Luther King’s birthday. Booker announced his on February 1, the first day of Black History Month. Booker and Harris’ strategies involve centering their Blackness and the Black constituency, something major party nominees have shied away from. Barack Obama remains notorious for race-neutral attitudes up until his second term. As the black community meditates on who would be best for the presidency, many voices express feelings that neither candidate can serve the black community in a positive way. Others believe they never did.
Kamala Harris became Senator of California in 2017. According to her official website, Harris became the first South Asian-American and second Black-American woman in history to be elected senator. Her background includes two terms as the District Attorney of San Francisco and two terms as California’s first woman and Black-American Attorney General.
Her trailblazing accomplishments as a Black woman go unchallenged; however, Harris’ stance on prison reform stirred controversy among many who believe her policies endorse the prison-industrial complex and mass incarceration. As Attorney General, Harris appealed a federal district ruling which found the death penalty to be unconstitutional. She remained silent on a bill requiring special investigations into shootings involving police officers, right around the time the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction after several consecutive police shootings of unarmed black men. She faced accusations from constituents and lawmakers alike of protecting the law enforcement community to avoid a conflict of interest. Harris supported California state legislation targeting the parents of truant children. Passed in 2011, the law allows for parents to be prosecuted for a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,000. Harris’ “tough-on-crime” attitude allowed her to climb the political ranks, yet many believe her history indicates a troubling disconnect from the interests and concerns of the Black community, a demographic heavily impacted by stricter policies in law enforcement.
Harris’ career as District Attorney includes a scandal in which she deliberately hid “damaging information about a drug lab technician,” according to SF Gate, violating defendant’s rights. Harris’ negligent actions led to a federal Judge ordering the dismissal of over 600 drug cases.
Harris takes on a more progressive approach during her presidential campaign. She supports the decriminalization of sex work, as well as backing reparations to African-Americans with lineage connecting to slavery. Throughout her career, Harris advocated for abolishing solitary and room confinement for juvenile prisoners. Recently, she changed her position regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Cory Booker served as the Mayor of Newark from 2006 until 2013, when he first became senator in New Jersey’s special election for the Congressional seat on October 16, 2013. Following that, Booker won the election for a full six-year term on November 4, 2014.
As a New Jersey native, Booker took his eight-year term as its down-to-earth mayor incredibly seriously, chasing armed robbers and going on night rides with police officers. Booker’s 10+ year-old backing of the privatization of education and support of charter schools have garnered criticism from Democrats, some believing Booker would rather pander to corporations than focus on public education. In the same vein, after publicly announcing that he would back a bill intended to lower the price of prescription drugs, Booker voted against it. Many attributed his switch-up to the fact that Booker receives large donations from pharmaceutical companies and banks. When asked if Booker would be willing to abolish private health care, he declined, despite supporting progressive presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare-For-All” bill. Although Booker’s reputation lies in his dedication to his constituents, many feel that his interests align more with those of Big Pharma and Wall Street than the people.
Booker stood behind the now-passed First Step Act for years, a law made to “ensure people are prepared to come home from prison job-ready and have major incentives to pursue the life-changing classes that will help them succeed on the outside.” Booker proposed a bill banning solitary confinement for those under the age of 18, like his opponent, as well as a bill that would reduce punitive punishment for nonviolent offenders with drug charges. Booker is known as a staunch advocate for prison reform and rehabilitation. His history in supporting progressive criminal justice legislation contrasts Harris’ traditional approach to crime.
Both Harris and Booker face accusations of co-opting pop culture and popular black references to obtain the black vote. Both politicians appeared on The Breakfast Club to discuss their campaigns. Booker chose to use slang words inconsistent with his normal vernacular. Harris’ statements were deceptive, claiming she not only smoked marijuana in college, but listened to Tupac and Biggie while getting high. Harris received her law degree from Hasting’s College in 1989, five years before the release of Biggie’s first album and two years before the release of Tupac’s. In addition, Harris was recently recording listening to Cardi B during a speechwriting break.
Booker and Harris’ bipartisan histories, to some, seem to speak louder than their pro-black presents. That noted, there is definitely more discussion to be had around the two candidates and who, in the end, will represent the people they claim to now.