During a CNN town hall-style event Monday night at Drake University, Harris was asked about prosecuting death penalty cases as well as legislation in California to require her office to investigate all police-related fatal shootings.
Harris, who was attorney general from 2011 until she took office as a U.S. senator in 2017, said she enforced the death penalty despite opposing it. "It's a flawed system. It is applied unequally based on race and based on income," she said in answering student Riley Fink's question in the school's Sheslow Auditorium in Des Moines.
Harris said she chose not to take a public position on the fatal shootings legislation in 2015 because her office would write the law and enforce it. She did say at the time, however, that she did not support the notion of superseding local prosecutors.
Fatal shootings by police of unarmed black men have become a rallying point among a swath of Democratic-leaning voters. Harris has faced scrutiny of her background as a prosecutor early in the 2020 presidential discussion. The town hall Monday night was her first public event in Iowa — the state will host the first presidential caucuses of the primary season — since she declared her candidacy.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who have taken steps toward presidential bids of their own, also have been confronted with questions about potential liabilities during appearances in Iowa this month.