Kamala Harris recently made headlines for throwing her hat into the ring of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, despite a tainted criminal justice record. As California’s attorney general, she overlooked prosecutorial misconduct and police brutality, while defending the state’s bloated prison system.
But there’s another former top prosecutor considering a run who could become an establishment Democrat favorite: Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota—who has so far evaded scrutiny for her work as Hennepin County Attorney from 1999 to 2006.
When Klobuchar took office as Hennepin County Attorney, she became the most powerful person in a county of over one million people. Unlike Harris, who has been panned for pretending she was a “progressive prosecutor,” Klobuchar makes no pretense of having been anything but “tough on crime.”
After her first year in office, Klobuchar boasted about a 900 percent increase in obtaining enhanced “career offender” prison sentences for people convicted of property crimes. An ardent drug warrior, she boasted in her first annual report as county attorney that “serious drug dealers” had been sent to prison 64 percent of the time, versus 33 percent of the time before she took office. In a September 2004 editorial, Klobuchar wrote that, “when kids have to go by a drug house on their way to school,” everyone is a crime victim.
Klobuchar’s statements on juvenile justice read like a how-to guide on creating a school-to-prison pipeline. She blamed “violent popular culture” for mass shootings, and said low-level “engaging in delinquent behavior and committing low-level crimes” was a warning sign for such heinous acts of violence. As county attorney, Klobuchar claimed a causal relationship between kids skipping out on school and killing people. In 2003, Black kids faced over 60 percent of Klobuchar’s new juvenile delinquency petitions, despite Black people only being about 13 percent of her county’s population at that time.
Klobuchar also worked on the front lines of Minnesota’s version of Project Exile, called Minnesota HEALS. Both programs were a way to easily federalize “felon with a firearm” cases to obtain much harsher, parole-ineligible sentences.
Project Exile has been called draconian and racist. Minnesota HEALS was supposedly a kinder, gentler version, guided by David M. Kennedy, a controversial policing scholar. In Minneapolis, Kennedy combined Project Exile with offers of social services and his trademark “call-ins”—where cops give accused gang members a chance to leave their old lifestyle before committing to locking them up for as long as possible. Kennedy’s work has also been slammed as racist for helping build massive “gang” databases and producing group indictments that devastate the lives of scores of young Black people for the crimes of a small percentage of those indicted.
Amy Klobuchar’s excessive punitiveness did not extend to police officers who hurt or killed county residents. When former police officer Douglas Leiter rammed his squad car into a pickup truck and killed two innocent people in 1999, Klobuchar refused to charge him, instead recommending that the city attorney consider misdemeanor charges.
She later endorsed Michael O. Freeman for Hennepin county attorney in 2018—the same prosecutor who victim-blamed Jamar Clark for his murder by police officers and nostalgically said on air that Minneapolis was a “simpler society” before the Black people moved in. Freeman narrowly defeated candidate Mark Haase, who ran on criminal justice reform.
Even former FBI Director James Comey considers Klobuchar “more purple than sometimes she’s maybe portrayed.” Given the fixer mentality of the Democratic Party’s national leadership, they may well find this attractive.
Her votes are in line with President Donald Trump 30 percent of the time, but she sparked some centrist Democrats’ imaginations after grilling Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing. A Midwesterner, she could fix Hillary Clinton’s biggest strategic problems without moving the party toward a greater social justice consciousness.
But pushing for Presidential Candidate Klobuchar based on “electability” before a full accounting of her deeds is offensive to the families—disproportionately people of color—permanently harmed by her scorched–earth prosecutorial tactics. Indeed, her candidacy should be distasteful to anyone who cares about justice.
Photo of Amy Klobuchar, official portrait, 113th Congress via http://klobuchar.senate.gov/