Home Opinion David Hart: Being a Prosecutor Isn’t a Crime

David Hart: Being a Prosecutor Isn’t a Crime

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at Bos Meadery during a previous visit to Madison while she was still a California senator. (Photo by David Dahmer)
While there are many fine presidential candidates in the 2020 presidential race, it is no secret that I am both fond of and inclined to support Senator Kamala Harris.
And why not? She is consistently the smartest person any room she walks into these days, she has a proven track record of leadership, and she has articulated bold and thoughtful policies that that will help the country’s most marginalized.
And she’s a Black woman. So, that means God has imbued her with the wisdom and resilience to lead effectively.
During this election season, I have seen and heard a great deal about Senator Harris, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I was moved to tears watching Senator Harris, after a stump speech to supporters, tell a young woman of color to “always keep your head up.”
And I was moved to tears for different reasons when reporter Chelsea Janes, in a series of racially ignorant tweets, characterized Senator Harris’ sorority sisters’ vocal support of her at an event as “screeching.”
But nothing I’ve heard or read about Senator Harris has been more troubling than the attempts to characterize her past professional accomplishments and resume in a negative light.
Senator Harris served as a prosecutor in Oakland, and was elected as California’s Attorney General.
Senator Harris was responsible for prosecuting sexual assault and drug cases. Senator Harris’ opponents have combed through her record and called her out on her aggressive prosecutorial approach generally, as well as specific cases in which she asked for lengthy prison time against Black men.
That’s all fair game.
What is not fair are the attacks on Senator Harris and her record simply because she has been a prosecutor.
Let me explain. In the very first Democratic presidential debate, Senator Harris hit Joe Biden over his record on school bussing and civil rights.
And Biden responded, “If we want to have this litigated on who supports civil rights, I’m happy to do that,” Biden asserted. “I was a public defender. I was not a prosecutor.”
There is an abiding notion that exists in this world that allows us to assume prosecutors cannot be civil rights advocates—that only criminal defense attorneys and civil litigators can advance the civil rights of the marginalized of this world.
I know because I had this notion. I have been a public defender and a defense attorney for years.
And Biden put that notion into words and gave life to it in this presidential campaign.
Let’s set aside that for white men, being a prosecutor has been a noble springboard to mayor, governor, and even president.
And, if Senator Harris was a white man, the fact that she has been a prosecutor would be seen as a strength and asset rather than a deficit.
And let’s set aside the fact that Thurgood Marshall, arguably the country’s most gifted civil rights lawyer, spent time as a prosecutor.
Let’s put that aside for now.
The notion that Senator Harris is not a civil rights advocate because she has been a prosecutor is a non sequitur.
I have been a prosecutor in one capacity or another for almost a decade. And in that time, I have been able to catch landlords in the act of discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, or sexual orientation.
I have sometimes been the lone advocate and voice in courtrooms for women of color who have been victims of domestic violence.
I have been able to secure hate crime convictions against people who have targeted some of our community’s most vulnerable based on their race or national origin.
I have had the opportunity to train other attorneys and stakeholders regarding the identification and prosecution of hate crimes.
I have been able to have meaningful and persuasive discussions regarding the mass incarceration of black people in this region, this state and this country.
I have been able to dismiss cases when they appear to have an unfair racial impact and are otherwise meritless.
Being a prosecutor is not perfect. It won’t cure or solve all of our problems with race or marginalization or oppression. There is still more work to do. There’s still more work to do together.
But I know from my own experience that prosecutors can really be advocates for the voiceless and marginalized in our society.
They can do the good work of civil rights, and it’s not accurate to characterize them and their work in a negative light.
This opinion piece represents the views of its author, and not necessarily those of Madison365, its staff, funders or board of directors.