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The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

Congressional candidate Dr. Clemmie Harris seeks to reframe gun debate

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Photo courtesy of Dr. Clemmie Harris

Dr. Clemmie Harris, assistant professor of history and director of Africana Studies set to square off with three other Democratic candidates running for the NY-22 Congressional seat, wants to address the mainstreaming of political extremism. Harris said political extremism is an existential threat to the democratic structure of the U.S. as well as the nation’s political and civic institutions and is directly tied to gun violence.

Harris is a centrist Democrat whose policies represent moderate and progressive political interests including calling for a ban on the domestic sale of assault weapons, background checks on the sale of every handgun and a restorating of racial and ethnic consideration for affirmative action policies.

A native of Buffalo who now resides in the Syracuse area, Harris is running against Jacob Addington, Sarah Klee Hood and John Mannion.

The Democratic candidates agree on many points, but Harris said his background in military service and career in law enforcement qualifies him to address gun violence above the other candidates. If elected, the former combat trained drill sergeant for the U.S. Army Reserve hopes to re-conceptualize the gun debate from a conversation centering around the Second Amendment to a conversation with public safety, public health, mental health, economic health and education as a foundation. 

Harris was first approached to run for Congress in 2007 by a former New York State Police superintendent. His background and attendance at the University of Pennsylvania qualified Harris, but at the time, he did not believe that was his calling.

“I believed my calling was as a professor of global Africa or Africana and I believed it was my calling to be a scholar of American democracy through the lens of the long, Black freedom struggle,” Harris said.

That changed in May 2022, after a racially motivated massacre at a Buffalo supermarket. Harris’ mother and aunt scheduled a visit to the supermarket where the shooting occurred that day, but providentially changed plans and avoided a mass shooting in their hometown, at the store they regularly shopped at. 

“That was a pivotal moment,” Harris said. “I began to ask myself, given all that I have done as a former combat trained drill sergeant, as a former road trooper and criminal investigator, as someone who helped shape New York state policies…and as a scholar and professor, was there more that I could be doing?”

When approached a second time to run for Congress in November 2022, Harris decided it was time to serve his country again. He sees his run for Congress not as a move toward the advancement of his political career but as a response to a call, like the time he took a leave of absence from his fellowship to serve as a senior advisor to former Gov. David Paterson during the Great Recession. 

“My history of service is really grounded in key values that my mother taught me about the importance of helping others,” Harris said. “It was also reinforced by my time growing up in a Black Baptist church.” 

Assistant professor of History and Africana Studies Dr. Daniel Cozart said Harris’ background in the military, state police and as an educator coupled with Harris being a leading scholar of race and racism in the U.S. is a unique combination that will bring skills, expertise and knowledge to his service as an elected representative. 

“He has used this knowledge and charisma to empower students to recognize the positive impact they can have in their local community, and to recognize the connections between their local struggles and those of African descended people around the world,” Cozart said. 

As soon as he heard about the campaign, international studies student Joshua Benson pledged support because he trusts the professor to, “represent the people, especially the most disenfranchised, rather than the elite of this country.” 

As a son and grandson of former soldiers, Benson commended Harris’ commitment to take action to confront the issue of veteran suicide in the U.S. 

The senior also relies on Harris’ pledge to take a bold stance on climate change, “a threat that will take hold of all of us, regardless of color, creed, or tax bracket, if something is not done,” Benson said. 

In the two-year term, Harris hopes to re-conceptualize the gun debate from a conversation centering around the Second Amendment to a conversation with public safety, public health, mental health, economic health and education as a foundation. 

“I am not a politician; I am a servant,” Harris said. 

New York’s primary is on June 25. If elected, Harris will take a leave of absence from his tenure at Utica University. 

Harris’ also calls for strong federal support of the following:

  • Affordable housing
  • Voting rights
  • LGBTQIA+ rights
  • Workers and unions
  • Veterans and law enforcement
  • Social Justice
  • Small businesses, including disadvantaged business enterprises, minority and women-owned business enterprises and farms
  • Addressing structural causes of poverty
  • Addressing climate change
  • Eliminating student debt
  • Access to reproductive healthcare
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Diana Sidorevich, Managing Editor

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