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Opinion: Kamala Harris: The right person at the right time?

By Nikos Papanikolaou

George Floyd’s murder fired up the black communities in the United States. It was a long-overdue issue after many other similar incidents, such as the death of Breonna Taylor.

The movement quickly went global, showing the anger and desperation . Police brutality against black people in the United States is the norm. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), people of colour face a higher likelihood of being killed by police than white men and women. That risk peaks in young adulthood, and that men of colour face a nontrivial lifetime risk of being killed by police. President Biden knew the issue since he was Vice President. During Barack Obama’s second term, the Justice Department had issued 13 reports alleging sweeping civil rights violations by police forces in major cities across the country. President has already pledged to bring back federal oversight of police departments, and seek police brutality investigations when needed. Biden is unwilling to defund the police – as many asked – but prefers to use funds to train the police to meet the standards established under the consent decrees. And here comes Kamala Harris.

Kamala Harris‘ choice was mostly – but not only – symbolic. She has made history as the first female, first black and first Asian-American US vice-president. She was the right person to serve after the tensioned summer the United States experienced. The black people could now see someone in the White House to fight for their rights. But that wasn’t only a matter of colour. It was also a matter of abilities. Vice President Harris has served as a prosecutor and attorney general in the state of California. After Black Lives Matter took off, she introduced and expanded a training to address racial bias and procedural justice. She also made the California Department of Justice require body cameras, and launched OpenJustice, a platform that allows the public to track reported killings by police officers.

“There are those to the left of Kamala Harris who weren’t very pleased with her attitude as Attorney General of California. So there are those further to the left of the Democratic party who thought that she was on the side of the police. That’s probably played quite well to mainstream law-abiding citizens in the States. She’s tough. She’s independently minded. So I think on balance the role it has been good. There’s still change that’s needed in the USA, but there are very deep-seated differences that will take some time to eradicate,” points out Peter Laugharne, a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at London Metropolitan University.

The issues of police misconduct were central to the BidenHarris campaign. During last summer’s turmoil, Harris used social media to express her frustration about Breonna’s Taylor killing, and the fact that the police officers involved were not charged at the time. She also tried to ban chokeholds, racial profiling and no-knock warrants. Kamala Harris may not have pleased everyone during her time as Attorney General of California, but she knows the system, she has grown into it, and she knows how to change it.

“I think she brings her own lived experience as a black child and a black woman in America and her lived experience as a Prosecutor in the most populous state in America. I think she will bring a very reasoned approach to the issue, and it’ll be very thoughtful, evidence-based, and empathetic. I think there’s an awful lot that she will bring to this and that she just a bright woman who learns from her experiences and listens. I’m confident that she will be in an excellent position to add to the conversation and bring the right voices to the table,” says Margo Miller, a former elected chair of Democrats Abroad UK, an official overseas arm of the US Democratic Party.

Can she become the first female, first black and first Asian-American US President?

Joe Biden became President at 78, and there are questions on whether he will run as a candidate for a second term. Democrats successfully picked Barack Obama as their candidate, the first black President in US history, and one of the most famous among voters. Harris‘ choice as a Vice-President, may be symbolic and crucial for all the reasons mentioned before but can be a way for Democrats to test the waters on how the country is ready for a black woman president.

“People have to bear in mind that the Democrats have been winning the popular vote for some time now, but it’s a matter of the Electoral College if Harris would get Democratic nomination if needed. The President doesn’t have to die, to be a transition. If Biden chooses not to stand again, she’s probably going to be preferred to defend the record of the Biden Harris administration,” Laugharne believes.

Black and Indian women have been cheering for Harris when she got elected. Harris‘ representation in the Oval Office gave hope not only to the black communities in the country but also to all black women around the country. But her potential choice as a candidate for the 2024 presidential elections, might be above political belief. More or less, what happened with Barack Obama, back in 2008. There was a need for progression, same as it is now. Kamala Harris – apart from a woman – is also a very strong potential candidate for 2024. And historically, the time is right to see the first female President in the United States.

“We’re not in a position that the only thing that stands between Kamala Harris becoming President of the United States is Joe Biden. It’s his decision to resign before the end of his term or not run in 2024 presidential elections. We often think that the Vice President is only a heartbeat away from becoming President, but it’s not that simple, it’s more than that. President Biden could decide after the midterms that he’s not running again, and give Kamala Harris a chance to be the President. That will put her in a better position to win in 2024 if she’s doing it from the Vice President’s position,” Miller thinks.

As Peter Laugharne points out “we can look at trends and patterns and extrapolate trends, but we can’t predict the future”. It is indeed a new era for the United States, and no one knows how this will pan out. The country still remains divided, inequalities still exist, and there is still tension. President Biden and Vice President Harris have a really crucial term ahead of them to bring the United States back to the elite and resolve issues that the country has been facing for decades now. If they will succeed or not, is something that no one knows. All we can do is looking at the trends and try to understand. But the future still remains unknown.