California Democrat Kamala Harris was one of three U.S. senators, along with Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who introduced a federal antilynching bill that passed in the Senate last week. Harris and Booker argued passionately for the bill just hours after actor Jussie Smollett appeared on Good Morning America to discuss details of an attack he said he suffered in Chicago that included racist and homophobic epithets and a noose being tied around his neck.
Harris also tweeted in support of the actor when news broke of the alleged attack.
“Like most of you, I’ve seen the reports about Jussie Smollett, and I’m sad, frustrated, and disappointed. When anyone makes false claims to police, it not only diverts resources away from serious investigations but it makes it more difficult for other victims of crime to come forward,” Harris wrote.
“At the same time, we must speak the truth: hate crimes are on the rise in America,” Harris added, pointing out a 17 percent increase in hate crimes in the country over the past year.
While arguing for the passage of the antilynching bill, which would amend the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009, Harris did not mention Smollett by name. But her comments echoed Booker’s and he did reference the actor.
"We must confront hate in our country. ... We are now making clear there will be serious, swift, and severe consequences,” Harris said.
As reports began to surface earlier this week that Smollett may have falsified a police report, journalists confronted Harris as she exited a meeting with activist and commentator Al Sharpton. But she declined to comment specifically about the case.
"I will say this about that case," she said Monday. "I think that the facts are still unfolding, and I’m very concerned about the initial allegation that he made about what might have happened."
"And it’s something we should all take seriously whenever anyone alleges that kind of behavior, but there should be an investigation," Harris added. "And I think that once the investigation has concluded, then we can all comment, but I’m not going to comment until I know the outcome of the investigation."
In her Twitter response to Smollett’s arrest, Harris noted that there are those who’ve latched on to the case as a way to diminish the real threat of hate-based crimes in the country.
“Part of the tragedy of the situation is that it distracts from the truth, and has been seized by some who would like to dismiss and downplay the very real problems that we must address,” Harris wrote. We should not allow that. I will always condemn racism and homophobia. We must always confront hate directly, and we must always seek justice.”
Like most of you, I've seen the reports about Jussie Smollett, and I'm sad, frustrated, and disappointed. pic.twitter.com/91OHOymShi
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) February 21, 2019