Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is running for president. She, along with other Democratic presidential candidates, was invited to speak at a three-day criminal justice forum at Benedict College, a historically black institution.
President Donald Trump was also invited. Not only that, but he would be receiving the "Bipartisan Justice Award" from the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center, which was co-hosting the forum. Trump's support of the First Step Act was instrumental in the reform bill's bipartisan passage.
That was just too much for Sen. Harris. She announced that she would no longer be willing to speak about the future of criminal justice reform, because someone associated with the event acknowledged that President Trump had done a good thing.
"As the only candidate who attended an HBCU, I know the importance that these spaces hold for young Black Americans," Harris said. "Today, when it became clear Donald Trump would receive an award after decades of celebrating mass incarceration, pushing the death penalty for innocent Black Americans, rolling back police accountability measures and racist behavior that puts people's lives at risk, and then learned all but ten Benedict students are excluded from participating, I cannot in good faith be complicit in papering over his record."
Harris eventually changed her mind and spoke at the event, but only after the organization that gave Trump the award was relieved of its co-hosting role.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson is serving as host of the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference this week in Chicago. President Trump will speak at the conference Monday.
So, Johnson, despite hosting and attending numerous other events associated with the conference, is taking a stand and not attending the president's speech.
"However, I will not be attending the president's speech because the values of the people of Chicago are more important than anything that he would have to say," Johnson said.
Harris is running for president, and she likes to say she is the one who can "prosecute the case against Donald Trump." That's her way of saying she's the one to stand up to Donald Trump and take him down. How can she do that if she can't even make her case in an environment in which the president receives a little support?
Johnson is responsible for law enforcement in one of the most violent cities in America, and it's clear he and the city need help and resources to turn things around. He doesn't have to go grovel at Trump's feet and beg for help, but shouldn't he be present to do everything he can to advocate for and represent his city?
Black communities need black leaders who won't forfeit their place in the discourse about issues like criminal justice and policing just because they don't like President Trump. We need leaders who are willing to go into any environment and make the case for what they believe is right.
Both Harris and Johnson framed their protests as if they were taking a stand for "the people." The only gain from these protests is additional headlines for the protesters — not for making an impact, but simply for being anti-Trump. The people, however, can only gain something if their leaders are willing to show up and speak for them, even when it's uncomfortable. When it comes to criminal justice reform and policing, lives are literally on the line.
By all means, oppose President Trump, or any leader, when you disagree with them. But don't do it in a way that sacrifices influence. Instead, use your influence on behalf of your people or in service of your cause by showing up and standing strong. If you're not willing to do that, don't expect anyone to believe you when you claim you're fighting for them.