Senator Kamala Harris had a message for former Vice President Joe Biden during the second half of the second Democratic primary debate night — and she made it personal.
On June 27, the moderators turned to the question of race issues in America by first asking Mayor Pete Buttigieg about the race relations problems in his police department in South Bend, Indiana. They were about to wrap the conversation up, when Harris stopped the rest of the speakers.
“As the only Black person on stage, I would like to speak on the issue of race,” Harris said.
The moderators said they would give her 30 seconds, but let her speak beyond her allotted time.
She said she doesn’t know a single Black man who hasn’t been discriminated against. She told the story of a neighbor she had as a child; that girl's parents wouldn’t let her play with Harris and her sister because they were Black. Then, she took the conversation to Biden.
“I do not believe you are a racist. And I agree with you when you commit yourself to the promise of finding common ground,” Harris told Biden. “But I also believe, and it’s personal. It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and careers on the segregation of race in this country.”
Harris was referencing comments made last week about Biden's working relationship with two segregationist Democrats, but before she gave him a chance to answer, she broadened her response to include a personal story about how bussing policies in California affected her childhood.
“And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose bussing,” Harris said. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate public schools. And she was bussed to school every day. And that little girl was me.”
Harris was referring to a move Biden made during the 1970s, when he worked to prevent the Department of Education from integrating school busing, according to CNN. She went on to say that when she was Attorney General of California, she required all agents to wear body cameras. The applause was thunderous.
“It’s a mischaracterization of my position across the board,” Biden responded. “I did not praise racists. That is not true.”
Harris pushed Biden, and asked if he regretted opposing bussing. He said he didn’t oppose bussing and added that bussing should be a local issue, not a federal issue — language similar to that of old school anti-civil rights activists who knew that if desegregation was left up to the state, it would take a longer time for it to come to fruition.
“But there was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America,” Harris responded. Then, she pointed to herself. “I was part of the second class to integrate Berkley California Public Schools almost two decades after Brown V. Education.”
“Because your city council made that decision,” Biden said.
“That’s when the federal government has to step in,” Harris said. “That’s why we have the voting rights act and the Civil Rights Act. That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act. That’s why we need to pass the ERA. BEcause there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.”
Biden began responding before cutting himself off saying — ”anyway, my time’s up.”