Harris, a U.S. senator from California, said she and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden had spoken to Blake’s parents earlier in the day. Blake, 29, was shot in Kenosha, Wis., on Sunday, prompting emotional protests in that city and an outcry nationwide.
Harris is the first Black woman and the first Asian American on a major presidential ticket, and in her first official week as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee she embraced that history and its importance to underrepresented communities. She has touted her education at a historically Black university and the influence Black fraternities and sororities have had on her life.
In addressing African American women Wednesday, Harris tried to rally a crucial voting bloc in the Democratic Party. She spoke to a group in Detroit, where nearly 80 percent of the population identified as African American in the 2010 Census, and where Black turnout dropped off from 2012 to 2016. Donald Trump won Michigan by just over 10,000 votes.
Detroit’s Black community, Harris said, “is facing some of the greatest disparities in terms of access to heath care, educational opportunities, economic opportunities.” She added, “We will always bop our heads and sing and dance to Motown, but we also know there’s a lot right now happening in Detroit and areas around Detroit like Flint where folks are suffering.”
Later in the day, at one of three fundraising events she headlined Wednesday night, an attendee asked Harris what voters should expect from her to help the Black community move past “this really dark period.”
“Going forward, Joe and I are committed together to what we know is what is necessary to fix a deeply broken system,” said Harris, who went on to mention goals like expanding pattern and practice investigations at the Department of Justice and creating a national database to make sure that officers’ disciplinary history isn’t lost when officers move jurisdictions.
Harris has so far made quick appearances before small groups and granted interviews to news organizations serving specific communities. She gave her first solo interview to the 19th, a recently formed outlet focusing on issues that affect women.
Essence magazine, which caters largely to Black women, streamed her roundtable Wednesday afternoon. Harris told the 19th’s Errin Haines that her choice of outlets so far has been “on purpose” because of the importance of women voting.
On Tuesday, she spoke to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in a brief recorded message, saying AAPI voters are an important and growing bloc. She sent another video message to a North Carolina youth vote town hall this week, in which she pleaded with younger voters to cast a ballot.
Harris has also made her presence felt at multiple fundraisers, including two scheduled for Wednesday evening. In the 48 hours after Harris was named Biden’s running mate, the campaign reported raising $48 million. The Biden campaign and Democratic Party also reported another $70 million during last week’s convention.
“Those numbers are an indication that people are excited by the ticket overall,” said Amanda Litman, founder of Run For Something, which aims to elect young, diverse progressives. “And the more resources the campaign has, the more they can mobilize voters.”
Harris’s message has centered largely around the importance of voting. Some of the groups she has addressed have an inconsistent history of voter turnout, and Democrats are bracing for what they see as GOP voter suppression efforts aimed at these communities.
“Why do you think they don’t want us to vote? Why are they trying to stop us from voting or turn us off from voting or suppress our vote or purge our names from the voting rolls?” Harris said Wednesday. “It’s because they know when we vote, things change.”
The 55-year-old has made those lines a staple of her public comments, and she delivers them with the same prosecutorial edge she displayed in the Senate hearings that helped elevate her national profile.
In contrast, Harris has devoted little energy to defending herself against baseless “birther” attacks on her eligibility for the office — and she does not plan to change that approach, according to campaign aides, who suggest that doing so would only amplify the falsehoods.
Instead, the campaign has released a statement condemning the attacks and encouraged news organizations to scrutinize their veracity.
Still, those around Harris say they recognize that racist and sexist attacks will fly her way during the next two months. In the hours before her acceptance speech at last week’s Democratic convention, Black women gathered at virtual watch parties sporting freshly minted T-shirts, including some with the phrase “We’ve got your back” in green and pink.
Those are the colors of Harris’s sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. The Biden campaign hopes the network of sororities with largely Black memberships, many of whom are enthused by Harris’s nomination, will prove a significant organizing resource.
“We Deltas have your back,” Michigan congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, a Democrat and member of AKA’s rival sorority Delta Sigma Theta, said at Wednesday’s event. “We know the minute that you were elevated that attacks came from everywhere. We want you to know we’re locking arms as Black women across this country.”