Video online of Kamala Harris calling young people ‘stupid’ is missing context

The claim: Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris called young voters “stupid” The 2020 election season

The claim: Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris called young voters “stupid”

The 2020 election season is in full swing and Joe Biden has selected his running mate. His choice of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., may have been in part due her potential appeal to women, people of color and young voters.

An Aug. 12 Reuters poll found Harris was popular with 62% of voters under age 35. (Biden’s standing with the same group was at 60% of those voters in the same survey).

But an Aug 12. Facebook post by conservative political organization ForAmerica insinuates Harris might not be an asset for the Biden campaign with young voters after all.

“What do we know about this population, 18-24? They are stupid,” Harris tells a laughing audience in the video clip posted to the social network. “That is why we put them in dormitories and they have a resident assistant. They make really bad decisions.”

“Democrats: Kamala Harris will help us get young voters!!,” ForAmerica wrote. “Kamala Harris on potential young voters (18 – 24): ‘they are stupid.’”

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden made his first joint appearance with his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden made his first joint appearance with his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris.

However, longer video of the same speech reveals Harris was referring to forgiving young people’s low-level crimes rather than insulting potential young voters.

According to ForAmerica’s website, its goal is to spread the conservative agenda through social media.

“Through our social media platforms, For America has taken the battle of ideas to social media – a place that, until now, has been dominated by the Left,” its website says.

“We stand by the post,” ForAmerica told USA TODAY in an email.

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Harris’ 2014 speech for the Ford Foundation

The 18-second clip excludes the larger context of Harris’ speech. The speech, which Harris gave at the Renewing Communities Symposium on May 8, 2014, focused on forgiving the mistakes young people make during immature stages of their lives.

The Ford Foundation, which hosted the event, is a private foundation focused on human rights and social justice. 

Harris spoke about Back on Track, “a reentry initiative aimed at reducing recidivism among low-level drug-trafficking defendants,” that she launched in 2005.

Back on Track allowed young people, ages 18-30, who’d been arrested on low-level drug charges to have their cases dismissed by completing a program of education and career training aimed at deterring further criminal activity. 

The Ford Foundation had Harris, a district attorney at the time, speak about Back on Track to accompany the theme of “Improving education access in California’s correction facilities and beyond.”

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The whole speech tells a different story

Longer video of Harris’ speech shows her describe how the unforgiving nature of the criminal justice system inspired Back on Track.

“When I was at Howard University and we were in college, we were 18 through 24, and you know what we were called? College kids,” Harris said. “But when you turn 18 and you’re in the system, you are considered an adult, period.”

She commented on young people’s stupidity, the clip which ForAmerica shared, to explain why Back on Track targeted that specific population. The crowd laughed in response.

In July 2019 Vice reported a spokesperson for Harris’ presidential campaign responded, “It was a joke,” when asked about her “They are stupid” remark.

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Our ruling: Missing Context

Kamala Harris did say young people were “stupid” during a 2014 speech, however, she was talking about forgiving young people for low-level crimes. We rate this claim MISSING CONTEXT because the full video shows there was a larger context to Harris’ speech than the short clip in the Facebook post is presenting.

Our fact-check sources:

  • USA TODAY, Aug. 11, 2020, “From rival to running mate: What ‘fearless fighter’ Kamala Harris brings to Joe Biden’s ticket”

  • Reuters, Aug. 12, 2020, “Exclusive: Harris could help Biden with women, young voters, maybe some Republicans too – Reuters/Ipsos poll”

  • ForAmerica.org, “The ForAmerica Mission”

  • YouTube, Ford Foundation, May 20, 2014, “California State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris on the importance of prison education”

  • FordFoundation.org, “About Ford”

  • U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Sept. 2009, “Back on Track: A Problem-Solving Reentry Court”

  • FordFoundation.org, “Renewing Communities: Improving educational access in California’s correctional facilities and beyond”

  • Vice, July 8, 2019, “Kamala Harris Called Young People ‘Stupid’ in 2015”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Kamala Harris clip calling young people ‘stupid’ misleads

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