Pence denies systemic racism, Harris decrys Trump administration ‘pattern’ of racism in historic debate


Sen. Kamala Harris, vying to be the first Black and Asian American vice president, slammed President Donald Trump’s record on race at the vice presidential debate Wednesday while Vice President Mike Pence denied that systemic racism is an issue in the United States. 

The two sparred over race relations as the nation reels from several high-profile police killings of Black people this year that have inspired widespread civil rights protests amid a historic pandemic and economic crisis, both of which have disproportionately hurt people of color. 

Harris criticized Trump for his refusal to condemn white supremacy at various points throughout his presidency. Trump set off a firestorm during last week’s presidential debate when he urged the Proud Boys, a violent far-right group, to “stand back and stand by” at Black Lives Matter protests. The White House later said the president has “always denounced” any form of white supremacy, despite evidence to the contrary. 

Harris accused Trump of a “pattern” of racism, citing his ban on several Muslim-majority nations, labeling Mexicans rapists and criminals during his campaign launch, and his statement that there were “fine people on both sides” at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 that saw a counterdemonstrator killed by a white supremacist. 

“This is who we have as the president of the United States,” Harris said. “America, you deserve better.”

Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) waves to crowd with husband Douglas Emhoff after in the vice presidential debate.

Meanwhile, Pence said he didn’t believe systemic racism exists in the United States when moderator Susan Page, USA TODAY’s Washington Bureau chief, asked about the police killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was fatally shot by police in Louisville, Kentucky, as plain-clothed officers served a no-knock warrant at her apartment in March. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced last month that the three officers will not be charged for killing her. Officer Brett Hankison, the only officer indicted by a grand jury, has pleaded not guilty to charges of wanton endangerment for shooting into another home.

Pence and Harris disagreed on whether “justice was served” in Taylor’s case. 

“Her family deserves justice,” Harris said. “Her life was taken unjustifiably and tragically and violently.”

Harris said it reminded her of the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Both deaths have fueled Black Lives Matter protests across the country.  

Pence said, “Our heart breaks for any American innocent life…But I trust our justice system – a grand jury that reviews the evidence.”

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the vice presidential debate.

Pence said there is “no excuse” for what happened to Floyd, but condemned the rioting and looting that happened in response.

The vice president called it a “great insult” to law enforcement that Biden says there is implicit bias against people of color in law enforcement agencies.

“We don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement, improving public safety and supporting our African American neighbors and all of our minorities,” Pence said. “Under President Trump’s leadership, we will always stand behind law enforcement.”

Black Americans are three times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police, according to a study published this year by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

Harris said the Biden administration will introduce police reform, including a chokehold and carotid ban, national registries for police officers who break the law, and eliminate private prisons and cash bail.

Former Louisville police officer Brett Hankison has been indicted on criminal charges after shooting into the apartments next door to Breonna Taylor.

Biden said he would not support defunding police as many protesters have demanded in recent months. 

Harris also noted Trump’s failure to appoint people of color to positions of power. When Pence asked if a Biden administration would pack the Supreme Court— which means add more judges— Harris dodged the question and instead noted that Trump has appointed 50 people to the Court of Appeals, not one of whom is Black.

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