The vice presidential candidate said Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have been undermining Black voting in effort to deter change.
“North Carolina, you are my first stop on our virtual bus tour,” Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris said at an online campaign event on Friday, National Black Voter Day, in Durham.
With Harris in a studio, followed by a socially distanced panel discussion including U.S. Rep. Alma Adams from Charlotte and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield from Wilson, the event drew a sharp contrast with the crowded in-person rallies favored by President Trump.
In her 13-minute speech, Harris urged viewers to engage in the political process, while touching on coronavirus response and criminal justice reform. But the California senator’s primary focus was the importance of early voting and voting-by mail, particularly for African Americans.
“While Donald Trump has failed us, we can’t let his incompetence cloud our concept of government,” Harris said, before outlining a COVID-19 relief package including free access to COVID testing and treatment, free access to a safe vaccine, and additional jobs for 100,0000 people through a new public health jobs corps.
Harris—who was participating in the Turn Up and Turn out the Vote Virtual Bus Tour with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) PAC—also stressed a moral imperative for wearing face masks.
“If we are going to live the spirit ‘Love thy neighbor,’” she said, “We need to wear masks.”
The former California attorney general also advocated criminal justice reform, promising that a Biden-Harris administration would create a national police oversight commission, eliminate the death penalty and mandatory minimum sentences and create a national standard for use of force.
“The question that people ask is, ‘Was that use of force reasonable?’” Harris said. “You and I know they can reason away just about anything. The fair [and] just question is, ‘Was that use of force necessary?’”
Voting rights claimed most of Harris’ time and attention.
“There are forces at work … that are dead set on trying to make it hard or confusing for us to vote,” Harris said.
“In North Carolina, a court of appeals said that the legislature, with surgical precision, wrote laws to prevent Black folks from voting,” she said, referring to a three-judge panel that slammed the Republican party for gerrymandering state legislative maps in September 2019.
Harris said voting is also a way of honoring the ancestors, “folks like [former U.S. Rep.] John Lewis who shed their blood for our right to vote.”
“Why are they going through so much trouble to suppress our vote?” Harris asked. “They know when we vote things change. They know that leaders are held accountable.”
Voter suppression was also a theme for the panel discussion that followed Harris’ speech. Both Adams and Butterfield referred to forces committed to stripping voting rights from African Americans. Butterfield said that African American votes would decide the outcome of North Carolina’s election.
“Don’t let anybody take our power from us, the power of our vote,” Harris said earlier. “Let’s make sure that our voices are heard.”
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