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Kamala Harris, citing 'sickening' Blake shooting, pledges to tackle police reform

In a speech hours before the final night of the RNC, Harris also described Trump's response to the coronavirus a failure.
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A Joe Biden administration would address systemic racism and tackle police reform, Sen. Kamala Harris said on Thursday, invoking the "sickening" shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin as further evidence for the need to address racial injustice in the U.S.

"The reality is that the life of a Black person in America has never been treated as fully human. And we have yet to fulfill that promise of equal justice under the law," Harris said. "We will only achieve that when we finally come together to pass meaningful police reform and broader criminal justice reform and acknowledge, yes, acknowledge, systemic racism."

Harris spoke hours before President Donald Trump is set to formally accept his party's nomination for re-election at the final night of the Republican National Convention, pre-emptively criticizing the president for his response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Trump campaign has used the Republican convention to paint his administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic as a success, largely depicting the disease as under control. Harris, however, described his response as a failure.

"Instead of rising to meet the most difficult moment of his presidency, he froze. He was scared. He was petty and vindictive," Harris said.

Harris' criticism anticipated that Trump will continue the themes of his convention, including depicting the nation as plagued by mobs and riots in cities led by Democrats.

The country had seen "the pain, hurt and destruction in the aftermath of yet another Black man shot by police," Harris said, adding that Blake's shooting "pierced the soul of the nation," and was "sickening to watch."

Blake, who is Black, was shot in the back by police Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He is now paralyzed from the waist down, his father said. During protests after Blake's shooting, two people were killed and another was injured when someone opened fire.

Police have arrested 17-year-old Illinois resident Kyle Rittenhouse on a first-degree intentional murder charge in connection with those shootings. NBC News has reported that Rittenhouse had posted online numerous photos of himself carrying long guns, along with several photos of the Blue Lives Matter flag.

Harris sought to make a distinction between "peaceful protesters" and "those looting and committing acts of violence" and "a shooter who was arrested for murder."

"Make no mistake, we will not let these vigilantes and extremists derail the path to justice," Harris said.

In an interview with NBC's Craig Melvin after the speech, Harris said Blake's shooting did not appear to be justified.

"I don't have all the evidence," the former prosecutor told Melvin in an interview, but "based on what I've seen it seems the officer should be charged."

Craig Melvin interviews Sen. Kamala Harris on Aug. 27, 2020.
Craig Melvin interviews Sen. Kamala Harris on Aug. 27, 2020.NBC News

She also noted that the topic of racial justice has been avoided at the Republican convention.

"I have yet to see these people who profess to be national leaders, speak about this issue of the killing of unarmed Black men, brown men, indigenous men in our country. I have yet to see them speak about it," she said, noting that despite the rosy talk about Trump's record at the convention, the country is dealing with multiple crises at once.

"And the American people regardless of race or gender or geographic location have a right to believe that their leaders will speak truth, even when these are difficult truths to speak and to hear. And we're not seeing that in the Republican National Convention," she said.

Parts of the interview aired on "Nightly News with Lester Holt" and MSNBC and more will be broadcast Friday on the "TODAY" show.

In her speech, Harris also levied harsh criticism at Trump's response to the coronavirus, saying he "failed the most basic and most important job of a president of the United States."

"He failed to protect the American people, plain and simple," she said. Harris, a former prosecutor, said Trump "showed what we in the legal profession would call a reckless disregard for the wellbeing of the American people."

She accused Trump of not having a plan from the start of the outbreak and attempted to contrast his approach with the fact that Biden has released several proposals on how to best deal with the pandemic, including implementing a national mask mandate if elected.

More than 180,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19, while nearly 6 million have been infected. Both figures are the largest of any country in the world.

"If you get it wrong at the beginning, the consequences are catastrophic, and it's very hard to catch up. You don't get a second chance at getting it right," she said. "Trump still doesn't have a plan."