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Kamala Harris’ Decision To Pass On Death Penalty For Gang Member Who Killed A Latino Officer Casts Shadow On Her Campaign

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When Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) announced her candidacy for presidency in January, Democrats were conflicted. Some celebrated the possibility of our first female president of color. Others, however, were concerned about her complicated history around progressive issues in California, particularly on the death penalty.

Throughout Harris’ career, she has staunchly spoken out against capital punishment. In 2003, when she ran for San Francisco district attorney, she promised not to impose the death penalty. She won the seat, and the following year, then four months into the gig, she kept her promise in a case that has followed her into her bid for president.

A young Latino officer, Isaac Espinoza, was shot and killed by a gang member while on the job. As progressive as California is, it was unusual at the time to not seek the death penalty in cases where men in badges were the victims. But Harris held tight to her convictions, announcing in a press conference before Espinoza was buried that she would seek life without the possibility of parole, not the death penalty, for the suspect.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association was stunned, vocally lambasting Harris’ decision and never endorsing the candidate in any future election. Renata Espinoza, the widow of the late officer, was also upset.

“I felt like she had just taken something from us,” Espinoza told CNN in a recent interview. “She had just taken justice from us. From Isaac. She was only thinking of herself. I couldn’t understand why. I was in disbelief that she had gone on and already made her decision to not seek the death penalty for my husband.”

Losing the support of top Democrats in her state as well as most powerful law enforcement groups, Harris’ future in electoral politics seemed shaky at the time, but she insisted then, and today, that she “did what I believed was the right thing to do.”

That’s why it’s so confounding to Californians, both on the left and the right of the political aisle, that four years later, then state attorney general, Harris upheld the death penalty in Calfornia. In July 2014, a federal judge ruled that California’s death penalty system was unconstitutional because nearly half of the inmates on death row had been waiting for more than 19 years, uncertain of their future. The judge said the delay and confusion “violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.” His ruling, however, was appealed, as some believed it would open petitions for other inmates across the state and country. Ultimately, it fell on Harris to decide to let the opinion stand or appeal it. In a surprise to everyone, she chose the latter, refuting the judge’s language that the system for capital punishment is “arbitrary or random.” Ultimately, a politician who had built a career, and had it threatened, by her stance against the death penalty had the power to ban it in California and, instead, chose to uphold it.

For Espinoza, the appeal was a slap in the face. “It feels like, why are you changing your mind now? Why couldn’t you change your mind back then and put your feelings aside,” she said, noting that she was speaking up today “for voters to have a full picture of the candidate and her humanity.”

Despite criticism and confusion from Democrats and Republicans alike, Harris has insisted that her take on the matter has never shifted.

“I’ve been [opposed] my entire life and still am, for very good reasons,” Harris recently told Rachel Maddow.

She added: “We are talking about a system that creates a final punishment without any requirement that there be DNA to prove it … It is a system where it has been fundamentally proven to be applied to African American and Latino men and poor men disproportionately for the same kind of crime.”

The issue, which has followed her career as a district attorney, attorney general and senator, will undoubtedly shadow her into her presidential bid as well.

Read: Rosario Dawson’s Relationship With Cory Booker Could Give Us Our First US Primera Dama

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Here’s Why Latinos Get Extra Emotional During College Graduations

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Here’s Why Latinos Get Extra Emotional During College Graduations

Getting through college and receiving your degree is not easy at all – especially when you’re a first-generation college student. But despite the stress and sleepless nights, reaching the finish line is the best feeling in the world, both for you and your family.

If you’re the first in your family to graduate, your parents react one of two ways when you cross the stage in your cap and gown: they cheer for you at the top of their lungs or they completely freeze and choke up in tears because they’re so happy and proud of you. And this is why…

As the first in your family to get a Bachelor’s Degree, one of the things you have to bear with and adjust to throughout your years of study is the education gap between you and your parents.

CREDIT: STEPHANIE OSUNA-HERNANDEZ / FACEBOOK

The contrast between the workload in high school and the workload in college hits you hard in the face as you enter your freshman year. Because you’re the first one in your family to get a college education, you can’t really go to your parents for help – or anyone else in your family and at times it feels like you’re walking in the dark. They give you moral support along the way, but when it comes to your Mechanical Engineering: Finite Element Analysis class or a course on Medieval and Renaissance Literature and Culture, your parents’ hands are tied. This education gap between you and your parents makes it crucial for you to seek help from friends, professors and academic advisors. You have to go out of your way and make time to get the assistance you need because college is way too expensive to feel too shy or intimidated to ask for help.

“I don’t think my parents fully understood what I was doing at my university and why I couldn’t just do it at a local college. I think that until now that I’ve graduated and have the job that I do, they see what I was preparing for all these years.” -Stephanie Osuna-Hernandez

In addition to the intense workload of college courses, another thing that takes time to adjust to is being away from home.

CREDIT: @CHEERISCAM / INSTAGRAM

If you don’t attend a college that’s close enough to commute to, moving away from your home is not easy, especially if you’re extremely close to your family. For the first few days or weeks, waking up in a place that’s not your home feels strange and somewhat uncomfortable. From no longer having home cooked meals, to no longer being taken care of by your mom when you’re sick, there’s a lot that changes once you live away from home, and to be honest, it fkn sucks. There are some days that are tougher than others and sometimes you just break down crying because things get so frustrating and stressful and there’s nothing you want more than your mom and dad. You wish they were there to hug you, hold you, and tell you that everything is going to be okay, but instead they’re miles away and the only thing you can do is call. But soon you learn, this is what helps you grow.

“My mom is my best friend and my dad is a goofball, so I missed them all the time. I needed them all the time – especially when I thought an assignment was too hard or I wasn’t smart enough, I would just call home and my mom would remind me that I could do it, because she knew I could. I graduated because they didn’t and I chose to push harder because they told me that they knew I could. It was all for them.” -Camerina Morales

And one of the scariest things of all, is dealing with the cost of tuition.

CREDIT: ANDREW SANTIAGO / FACEBOOK

Being the first person in your family to attend college, also means you’re the first one to apply for FAFSA, scholarships and loans and anyone who has been through it will tell you it’s not an easy process. The harder part is knowing that you’ll have to deal with the same expenses for the next school year, and the year after that…but what if you don’t receive as much financial aid, or what if the cost of tuition suddenly increases, or BOTH? The price tag attached to college is scary AF, which is what makes getting through it such an immense relief especially because you don’t want to burden your parents by asking them for some help.

“It all hinged on this one scholarship that had the ability to change my life….and the day I got the call, I collapsed into tears.” -Andrew Santiago

But at the end of your college career, all of these struggles are completely worth it…which is what makes your graduation day SO. DAMM. SPECIAL. ❤️

CREDIT: @JROLDEE247 / INSTAGRAM

Getting through college is not easy, especially when you’re the first one in your family to do it. But the look on your parents’ face when they see you cross that stage, is what makes every sleepless night, every hour of studying and every stressful exam, completely worth it. This is the best gift in the world that you could’ve given them, and they will never stop showing you off – with immense love, pride, and joy.

“Nothing beats the feeling of knowing they raised you, and that you chose to succeed, that you chose to break not one, but many stereotypes.” -Camerina Morales

And the best part is that now you can be there for all of your younger brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews once it’s their turn to apply for college.

CREDIT: @JAZSM / INSTAGRAM

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re an idol to all of your younger family members. Seriously, you’re their hero. And now that you’ve gone through this process, you can now help out the rest of your family that also decides to attend college. It will still be a difficult journey for them, but at least they’ll have your support, guidance and advice, which is exactly what every student needs.

“Making my family proud was a priority, but hearing my baby brother say that he was proud of me was even better because I know he looks up to me…I guess it’s the same feeling I had when I was a little girl and looked up to my neighbors’ daughter who had graduated from med school in Guatemala. Children are influenced so easily, and I’m content knowing my little brother will follow my example.” -Jasmin Ramirez


READ: Mother of Mexican-American Student Killed In Paris Received Her College Degree In Her Honor


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