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Fact check: Kamala Harris is “a cop whose family owned slaves in Jamaica” claim is missing context

Viral posts on Facebook make the claim that vice presidential candidate and California Senator Kamala Harris is “a cop whose family owned slaves in Jamaica.” This claim is misleading and missing context.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) listens after asking a question as U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "The Justice Department's Investigation of Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election." on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Viral examples of these posts are visible  here  and  here  . 

Kamala Harris is the first Black woman and Asian-American on a major presidential ticket in the United States. She is the daughter of the late Shyamala Gopalan, who was Indian-American (here) and Donald Harris, a Black Jamaican man who emigrated to the United States in 1964 (here). 

“TOP COP”

Kamala was never a police officer but served as “Top Cop” (slang for head of the police) indirectly through her positions as District Attorney of San Francisco from 2003 and subsequently as Attorney General of California from 2011 ( www.harris.senate.gov/about ,  oag.ca.gov/history/32harris ). Since 2017, she has been serving on the U.S. senate. 

“Top Cop” has been used to describe Harris’ past record on crime by various publications, see  here  ,  here  ,  here  and  here  . 

The New York Times wrote about the shift in her stance from her career in California to the summer of 2020, when Black Lives Matter protests spread across the United States and outlined her position on various high profile cases and her criminal justice work in California during career (here).  

The Atlantic argued in an op-ed that she doesn’t say enough when pressed about criticisms about her track record, “like that she fought hard to keep innocents in prison and failed to fight hard against corrupt cops.” (here

“FAMILY OWNED SLAVES”

While it is true that Kamala Harris’ father claimed to be a descendant of a slave owner, Harris and her family’s relationship to Hamilton Brown remains unclear.

In an article published by the Jamaica Globe (here), professor Donald Harris wrote: “My roots go back, within my lifetime, to my paternal grandmother Miss Chrishy (née Christiana Brown, descendant of Hamilton Brown who is on record as plantation and slave owner and founder of Brown’s Town),” a town in Jamaica. 

According to the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership, Hamilton Brown was an Irish resident slave-owner in Jamaica, and founder of Brown’s Town (here). Snopes, which investigated this claim (here) in 2019, reported that Brown owned at least 121 and 124 slaves in 1826 and 1817, respectively. 

These in-depth Fact Checks by Snopes and Politifact (here) have determined that while there is no clear evidence to prove Kamala Harris is a descendant of slave owners, it is likely that she is a descendant of both slaves and slave owners. 

As explained by the Atlantic (here), “the overwhelming majority of African Americans have white male ancestors, largely because of white male slave owners who raped Black female slaves.” 

This dark historical fact undermines the point this claim tries to make - that having a white slave-owner in her ancestry makes Harris or any African American less Black.

VERDICT

Missing context. The claims that Kamala Harris is a “cop” and that her “family owned slaves in Jamaica” are both missing essential context.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts  here  .  

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