Shortly after California senator Kamala Harris announced that she is running for president, an old video of her surfaced and began going viral on social media. The video is from a talk Harris gave at the Commonwealth Club back in 2010, when she was the San Francisco’s district attorney. Harris describes — among other things — her policy on truancy. Harris said the policy, which allowed her to prosecute whose missed too many days of school or were “tardy” too often — was a boon for minority communities. But critics of the truancy policy have said the law was overly simplistic, rigid, and ignored the individual needs of students.
Harris says, in part, “I would not be standing here, were it not for the education I’ve received. And I believe many of us would say the same. And I believe a child growing without an education is tantamount to a crime,” Harris told the audience. “So I decided I was going to start prosecuting parents for truancy.”
The Video of Harris Describing Her Truancy Policy Went Viral, With Many Social Media Users Saying They Were Upset Seeing Harris Laughing While Threatening to Jail Parents
Harris’s truancy policy defined truancy as “a student who is “absent or tardy by more than 30 minutes without a valid excuse on three occasions in a school year.” During her talk at the Commonwealth Club Harris laughingly acknowledged that her truancy policy was “a little controversial” in San Francisco. But, she said, “I said look. I’m done. This is a serious political issue, and I’ve got a little political capital, and I’m going to spend some of it.” She added, “We recognized that, in law enforcement, I’ve got a huge stick. The school district has a carrot. Let’s work in tandem.” She laughingly described telling her assistant DAs to look as “mean” as possible when they went to meet with parents to warn them that they could face prosecution if their children were truant.
Many social media users have said they were upset to see Harris laughing as she talked about threatening parents with jail time if their children missed school. But Harris also stressed that her goal wasn’t to jail parents — it was to use her position as DA to help get families back on the right track and to help them get the services they were entitled to. Harris pointed to one case in particular as a success story. She described one single homeless mother of three, who was working two jobs to try and keep her family afloat.
“She just needed some help,” Harris said. “But 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 San Francisco by 20 percent over the last two years.”
You can watch the clip of Harris talking about the homeless mother of three here:
Kamala Harris generally positions herself as a staunch progressive, talking up policy ideas like Medicare for all, a ban on assault weapons, and better protections for the DREAMers. Harris also likes to talk about her childhood growing up with two parents who were active in the civil rights movement. But Harris has also faced criticism from some on the left who say that, far from being a progress, Harris was on the “wrong side of history” when she served as California’s attorney general. Harris’ critics say they can’t understand why she didn’t file charges against Steve Mnuchin when he was the head of California-based OneWest Bank , for allegedly breaking state foreclosure laws. She has also faced criticism for appealing a federal ruling that declared the death penalty to be unconstitutional. Many on the left were also angered when Harris opposed a bill requiring her office to investigate shootings involving officers. It remains to be seen whether Harris’ record will help, or hurt her, with voters.