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Kamala Harris to Detroit NAACP: We need leaders with courage to speak truth

California Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris made the first of several Michigan campaign stops in Detroit Sunday night, where she was the keynote speaker at the Detroit NAACP’s Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner.

Harris gave a wide-ranging speech, touching on everything from health care (she supports Medicare for all) to the criminal justice system (“deeply flawed, infected with bias, and in need of reform”). She slammed President Trump for “feeding hate,” and said the economy is not working for working people, especially for black families (she wants to give families making less than $100,000 a year a tax credit worth $6,000 a year, after repealing President Trump’s package of tax cuts).

“We need leaders who have the courage to speak truth,” Harris said, a theme she returned to throughout her speech.

Harris said recent violent attacks by right-wing extremists, from synagogue shootings to the burning of black churches in Louisiana, are forms of domestic terrorism. She warned that’s a rising threat, one the U.S. Department of Justice needs to take more seriously.

“We can’t feed it. I’m telling you, I won’t ignore it. I won’t tolerate it,” Harris said. The former prosecutor says she would make that issue a U.S. Department of Justice priority, and double the size of its civil rights division.

Harris said the country also needs a new voting rights act after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned portions of the existing act, saying “voter suppression” is the reason African-American Democrats like Georgia’s Stacey Abrams and Florida’s Andrew Gillum lost highly contested races for governor of those states.

Another truth, Harris said, is that as a country, “We pretend to care about education.” But Harris says teachers are underpaid compared to comparable professionals. She wants to change that by giving most teachers a raise of about $13,500 a year, which she calls “the largest investment in teachers in our nation’s history.”

Harris wrapped up her speech with commentary on the idea of “electability” in the Midwest. She did not mention any of her fellow Democratic candidates by name, but said it’s often framed as which Democrats can “speak to voters” in states like Michigan. But when they do that, “they usually put the Midwest in a simplistic box and narrow narrative. And too often, their definition of the Midwest leaves people out,” Harris said.

“As party, we cannot let ourselves be drawn into thinking in those boxes, or falling into those assumptions. We cannot get dragged into simplistic narratives or yesterday’s politics.”

This is Harris’s first campaign swing through Michigan. She’s scheduled to visit a Dearborn public school Monday afternoon, followed by and American Federation of Teachers town hall meeting in Detroit.  

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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