2020 Democrats And Their Harmful Histories With Police

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Just like Kamala, most of the prominent white candidates have complicated (read: bad) histories with policing, incarceration, and Black people in general. 

When Senator Kamala Harris dropped out of the presidential race last week, her supporters on Twitter claimed that she was unfairly treated by the “Kamala is a cop” narrative. They said that belaboring her past as a prosecutor was thinly-veiled misogynoir because white candidates weren’t critiqued in the same manner. This narrative wasn’t about her identity as a Black woman, though. “Kopmala” was an indication of her pro-cop, pro-incarceration, pro-criminalization past which haunted her throughout her campaign. Harris never stepped back from being the “top cop” she claimed to be as California’s Attorney General and it hurt her—especially in a field of candidates who shy away from appearing tough on crime when mass incarceration is being heavily criticized. 

Just like Kamala, most of the prominent white candidates have complicated (read: bad) histories with policing, incarceration, and Black people in general. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been in politics for what seems like forever. He’s been touting punitive, tough on crime policies that whole time. During his time on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden whole-heartedly supported the horrific, racist war on drugs. He criticized then-President George H.W. Bush for not being tough enough on not only drug dealers, but drug users as well. Biden wanted more police, more prosecutors, and more prisons—the trifecta of criminalization, prosecution, and incarceration. 

Joe Biden is also partially responsible for the law that made the mandatory minimum penalty for crack cocaine far worse than that for powder cocaine—a law that has fueled an extreme racial disparity in drug-related incarceration. As if this wasn’t enough, cops can seize and absorb people’s property without proving that person’s guilt or innocence (which shouldn’t matter anyway) because of a 1984 law co-authored by Biden. Obama-appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch especially loved that law when she led the U.S attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, where they took in $113 million between 2011 and 2013 through asset forfeiture

Despite also being the co-author of the devastating 1994 crime bill—which most critics credit with intensifying the increase of Black and brown incarceration—Biden thinks he’s done nothing wrong. During his campaign, Biden has argued that the crime bill restored American cities previously plagued by crime. It sounds to me like Joe Biden’s ideal American city is one whereas many Black people as possible are in prison instead of in their homes. Keep in mind, Joe Biden supported all this tough on crime legislation with his chest, but couldn’t be bothered to support Anita Hill at all. 


It’s not just Joe Biden who’s been tough on crime. Before she was a senator, Amy Klobuchar was a prosecutor in Hennepin County, Minnesota. During her tenure, she supported harsher prison sentences for nonviolent offenders (seems to be a favorite amongst these candidates). She also supported prosecutions related to school truancy, just like Harris. I am not sure how prosecutors justify criminalizing skipping school, especially considering that it is usually an issue of poverty or lack of resources when truancy becomes a recurring problem. 

Perhaps the most damning part of Amy Klobuchar’s record as a prosecutor was her refusal to go after police officers who killed Black people in Minneapolis. In fact, she declined to bring charges to more than two dozen cases where people were killed by cops. This was at the exact same time as she was advocating for harsher sentences for vandals. Amy Klobuchar was more concerned with stopping graffiti in Minneapolis than killer cops. Thank God she made the streets safer for white ladies concerned by aesthetics, while Black families mourned their friends and relatives—either murdered or locked away for years.

Even though his team can’t breathe without mentioning the fact that Bernie Sanders marched with Martin Luther King Jr., I would be remiss not to point out that he voted for the terrible 1994 crime bill Joe Biden authored. Not only that, but he voted to extradite Assata Shakur from Cuba after she escaped prison (where she was being held for an alleged murder after a biased trial). Now, Sanders has taken to lamenting the existence of private prisons and detention centers. If Sanders is really ready to dismantle capitalism to implement socialist policies this country desperately needs, he should realize that prison abolition is the only option to meaningfully end the harms of the criminal justice system. 

He has also failed when asked how to end white supremacist violence. Despite diversifying his staff, Sanders struggles to answer basic questions about how to engage the support of Black women and other women of color in his bid for the presidency. As has been proven in recent elections, candidates do not get elected without Black women. Their needs and priorities need to be met with serious policy proposals and actual responses to pointed questions. 


Last but certainly not least, Pete Buttigieg—who I am still not convinced is even a Democrat—has a slew of controversies during his time as Mayor of South Bend. This town has around 100,000 people, so I am honestly flabbergasted at his ability to get caught up in this many racist incidents. In 2012, Buttigieg demanded the resignation of South Bend’s first Black police chief—Darryl Boykins. To be clear, I don’t support police chiefs regardless of their race, but this moment has haunted Pete since he wanted Boykins out over a secret recording system that existed far before his tenure as chief. These recordings have been kept very secret since the news of their existence broke, but someone familiar with their contents said that other police officers were using racist language in relation to Boykins among other unethical behavior. Boykins has since sued the city for racial discrimination. He won. 

Pete Buttigieg has also done next to nothing to hold racist police accountable. Take Officer Aaron Knepper for example. He has done everything from accidentally tasing the wrong Black man, to using excessive force, to being involved in a shooting of a Black man in June 2019. Though Knepper didn’t shoot Eric Logan, he did drive him to the hospital in his police car instead of waiting for an ambulance and qualified medical personnel. Taking into consideration his history, this sounds less like negligence and more like not caring if a Black man dies under his care. This man is still a police officer in South Bend. 

South Bend’s current police chief—and Buttigieg ally—also just promoted an officer involved in the wrongful death of a Black man in 2012. His promotion was approved by the Board of Public Safety— all of whom were appointed by Mayor Pete Buttigieg. 

Kamala Harris wasn’t an ally to Black people or to prison abolitionists. Neither are any of these white candidates. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: if you are not vocally anti-criminalization, anti-incarceration, or anti-cop, you’re for them all. The 2020 Democrats are for them all.