(CALMATTERS) – California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris is emerging as the top contender for Joe Biden’s vice president amid protests over police brutality and a renewed reckoning about racism in America.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris at the 2019 Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on August 9, 2019. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

A Politico/Morning Consult poll taken after George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police found that 46% of Democrats want Biden to choose a woman of color as his running mate, up from 36% in early April.

As a black woman and former prosecutor, Harris’ profile has risen. On Monday, she introduced a sweeping police reform bill and has made numerous TV and talk show appearances to discuss the intersection of race and law enforcement.

  • Harris in a Thursday virtual town hall“I grew up experiencing most of what I’m talking about in terms of the abuses of the (police) system. … I made a very conscious decision to become a prosecutor … because I said, ‘Why do we only have to be on the outside trying to knock down the doors to change the system? … Isn’t there a role for us to go inside the system to try and change it?’”

However, some see this past as a liability and say Harris wasn’t the “progressive prosecutor” she makes herself out to be. They point to incidents like her decision in 2008, as California attorney general, to prosecute a schizophrenic woman shot by police and to her flip-flopping on issues that have taken on renewed urgency in recent days.

For example, Harris’ police reform bill calls for a stricter national standard for when police are legally able to use deadly force — but she didn’t take a stance on the issue in 2019, when California passed a landmark law raising the state standard from “reasonable” to “necessary.”

Her bill also calls for independent investigations of police departments, though she didn’t back a California bill to that effect as attorney general.

  • Harris: “What Black Lives Matter has done (is) to put the pressure on these systems that when you’re inside of it, work so fiercely against you trying to change it. And then to have these activists on the outside, coupled with having some of us on the inside, that’s where I believe the beauty is in the ability to actually force the change to happen.”