What’s Wrong With Kamala Harris

     An old man was driving carefully down the road. A little too carefully for two young guys who had been given the mantle of defending the public and fighting crime on California’s highways.
     The 76-year-old was driving five miles under the speed limit, on a dangerous curve. So the two California Highway Patrol officers stopped him. They heard his slurred speech and thought he was drunk.
     He explained that he had had a stroke and does not drink. The stroke also left him with bad balance. Regardless, the patrolmen twice put him through a physical sobriety test, which he of course failed.
     They then tested him with a breathalyzer and it turned he was telling the truth. He had not been drinking.
     So rather than accept that confirmation of his account, they conjured up the suspicion that the 76-year-old was taking an unspecified drug, and arrested him.
     As the judge presiding over the case said, the old man had acted as a ‘model citizen’ until the patrolmen wanted to put handcuffs on him. He objected because he had difficulty balancing. So the agents of the state grabbed him on either side, punched him, and pushed him down onto the ground.
     At the station, the man was held overnight before someone with a modicum of sense concluded he had a medical problem, as he had been explaining all along. And that is where things took an unfortunately familiar turn.
     The patrolman who hit the old man failed to report the blow, a routine requirement when force is used, suggesting, as the judge noted, that he knew the punch was unjustified. The patrolman then claimed the old man raised his fists, where the second patrolman saw no such thing. And then they charged the old guy with resisting arrest.
     The local district attorney quickly saw what baloney the charges were made of, and dropped them.
     Two years later, the events appeared to anger federal jurors who unanimously awarded the old man $125,000 and found the punching patrolman guilty of using excessive force and making a false accusation.
     “The ‘crimes’ at issue could hardly have been more minor,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb in a 26-page opinion upholding the verdict.
     “There was no evidence that plaintiff posed any appreciable threat to the officers’ safety. Plaintiff was a 76-year old disabled man confronted by two young officers.”
     I thought the conduct of the patrolmen was both terrible and familiar, in line with a rich California history of police, sheriffs and patrolmen who, confronted with something they don’t understand, resort immediately to force and then cover up.
     And I was frustrated with our own editorial staff for playing the story in the lower Siberia of our news page, focusing on the amount of the award rather than the man’s age and helplessness, and leading with a legalistic interpretation of the ruling instead of the judge’s simple, clear finding that the verdict was “amply justified.”
     Ultimately, though, my sense of injustice settled not on the individual actors — there are unfortunately bad cops among the many good ones — but on a state government that does nothing to punish such bad actors and instead goes to irrational lengths to protect them.
     “Although the Attorney General persists in attempting to defend it, neither the jury nor the court can find any justification for that blow,” wrote the judge.
     The attorney general in question is California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the Democratic Party favorite who is running for U.S. senator, and is a likely shoo-in.
     Why would the first female attorney general in California, born of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, persist in defending a patrolman who punched a disabled and elderly man, and followed that up with a false accusation.
     She is the leader of a state prosecution machine of career cops and prosecutors who reflexively defend bad conduct by their own. Like other state bureaucracies, they view their responsibility inward, towards themselves, rather than outward, towards the public that supports them, gives them jobs and clothes them in the sacred mantle of enforcing the laws of the people, by the people, for the people.
     It takes courage to buck that machine, to punish rather than protect those who would punch and falsely accuse a helpless old man. This case was a chance for Attorney General Harris to demonstrate some of that courage, and she showed none of it.

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