'You owe them an apology': Tulsi Gabbard ripped into Kamala Harris at the Democratic debate over her controversial record on criminal justice

Tulsi Gabbard

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Democratic presidential hopeful US Representative for Hawaii's 2nd congressional district Tulsi Gabbard delivers her opening statement during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019

  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii took Sen. Kamala Harris to task over the California senator's controversial record on criminal justice in the second round of Democratic presidential debates.
  • Harris is branding herself as a "progressive prosecutor" poised to take on Trump. But she has faced scrutiny over her record as California's attorney general and San Francisco's district attorney.
  • "I'm concerned about this record of senator Harris. She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana," Gabbard said at the debate.

  • Harris quickly defended herself against Gabbard's criticism, saying, "I did the work of significantly reforming the criminal justice system of the state of 40 million people which became a national model."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii took Sen. Kamala Harris to task over the California senator's controversial record on criminal justice in the second round of Democratic presidential debates in Detroit, saying Harris owed an apology to the people her policies had impacted.

Harris is branding herself as a "progressive prosecutor" poised to take on Trump. But she has faced scrutiny over her record as California's attorney general and San Francisco's district attorney, which included cracking down on truancy, defending the death penalty and several cases of wrongful conviction, and allegedly ignoring survivors of clergy sexual abuse. (In a recent interview with CBS, Harris dismissed criticism of her time as a prosecutor as "overblown.")
Advertisement
"I'm concerned about this record of senator Harris. She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana," Gabbard said at the debate.

Gabbard continued: "She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California, and she fought to keep cash bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way."

Read more: Joe Biden got skewered for asking Kamala Harris to 'go easy on me, kid' as they took the stage for the second Democratic primary debate
Advertisement

Harris quickly jumped to defend herself against Gabbard's criticism, saying, "I did the work of significantly reforming the criminal justice system of the state of 40 million people which became a national model for the work that needs to be done. And I am proud of that work."

She also seemed to take a subtle dig at Gabbard herself, saying, "And I am proud of making a decision to not just give fancy speeches or be in a legislative body and give speeches on the floor, but doing the work of being in the position to use the power that I had to reform a system that is badly in need of reform."Gabbard, however, wasn't satisfied with Harris' defense of her record, saying, "When you were in a position to make a difference and an impact in these people's lives, you did not and worse yet in the case of those who are on death row, you blocked evidence from being revealed that would have freed them until you were forced to do so."
Advertisement

The Hawaii congresswoman added, "there's no excuse for that and the people who suffered under your reign as a prosecutor, you owe them an apology."

While Harris said that she always opposed the death penalty and was put in the position of having to execute it as attorney general, Harris explicitly defended the death penalty in appealing a ruling from a judge who struck down California's capital punishment law as "unconstitutional" while she was in the position of attorney general in 2014, as Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown noted on Twitter,

{{}}