POLITICS

Kamala Harris Defends Controversial Truancy Initiative In Newly Resurfaced Video

In a 2010 speech, Harris boasted about her crackdown on truancy as DA of San Francisco.
California’s Sen. Kamala Harris at her presidential campaign rally in Oakland on Jan. 27. Her decision to take pun
California’s Sen. Kamala Harris at her presidential campaign rally in Oakland on Jan. 27. Her decision to take punitive measures against the parents of truant children in San Francisco has come under renewed scrutiny.

A 2010 video of now-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) boasting about her truancy platform while she was the district attorney of San Francisco has resurfaced and gone viral on Twitter.

The video, posted by journalist Walker Bragman on Monday, features Harris, at the time the state’s attorney general, delivering a speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. In it she defends her decision to take punitive measures against the parents of truant children in the city, despite controversy surrounding the plan.

“I believe a child going without an education is tantamount to a crime,” Harris says in the video. “So I decided I was going to start prosecuting parents for truancy.”

She describes an instance in which she charged a homeless woman who was working two jobs to take care of her three children.

“She just needed some help,” Harris said. So the woman was charged.

“By shining this infrared spotlight of public safety on the fact that her children aren’t in school, we were able to figure that out, get her access to services that exist, and through that process, the attendance of her children improved. We dismissed the charges against her, and overall we’ve improved attendance for this population in SF by 20 percent over the last two years.”

In the speech, Harris laughs about sending her office’s homicide and gang prosecutors into San Francisco schools to meet with parents and administrators who were discussing truant students.

“When you go over there, look really mean,” she said she would tell them.

In Bragman’s thread, he pointed out that Harris’ speech was a stump speech for her 2010 re-election campaign for attorney general. In another video, from November 2009, she delivers the same speech.

Harris, who announced her 2020 presidential bid on Jan. 21, has begun to face criticism for her actions as a prosecutor, including the truancy initiative. Its critics pointed out that it predominantly affected poor communities and communities of color.

“She believed a critical way to keep kids out of jail when they’re older is to keep them in school when they’re young,” a campaign spokesperson told HuffPost on Tuesday.

Harris’ campaign pointed to the social service aspect of the initiative, saying that arrests and other interactions with the criminal justice system were minimal and that the initiative forced schools to work more closely with parents of struggling children ― and support those parents too.

(When Harris was attorney general, several parents were arrested for their kids’ chronic truancy.)

In a town hall on CNN on Monday, she defended her criminal justice background.

Asked about her “contradictory” career as a prosecutor, she said, “I’ve been consistent my whole career.” 

“My career has been based on an understanding that, one, as a prosecutor, my duty was to seek and make sure that the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected. ... I have also worked my whole career to reform the criminal justice system, understanding, to your point, that it is deeply flawed.”

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