GOOSE CREEK — U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris unveiled a mental health plan Monday that includes covering mental health care on demand via telemedicine, doubling the number of treatment beds nationwide and funding more research for veterans' mental health.
Harris and Charlamagne Tha God, a Moncks Corner native who rose to become the popular co-host of nationally syndicated The Breakfast Club radio show, sat down with The Post and Courier following a campaign stop in Goose Creek, where she announced the proposal.
Charlamagne, born Lenard McKelvey, has written a book about his own struggles with anxiety and advocates for reducing stigma around mental health.
The following transcript has been edited and condensed:
Why do you view mental health as such an important issue?
Harris: Probably one of the biggest public policy failures of America is the failure to address mental health and put the resources into it as a priority. The result of that is that people are silently suffering who should never suffer. We have so many children who are experiencing undiagnosed, untreated trauma, whether it is because they're growing up in a home where there's violence, which crosses socioeconomic lines, or a community where there's violence, or growing up in poverty because — let's be clear — poverty is trauma-inducing. All of the behaviors that result from that undiagnosed, untreated trauma are predictable. We're failing to address it and then where we do address it is in the criminal justice system. We have basically turned jails and prisons into these gigantic mental health facilities without any mental health treatment.
Charlamagne: They call it a correctional facility, but what are you really correcting? You're taking these kids who are already dealing with so much trauma and throwing them in a situation that's just putting trauma on top of trauma, and then you're letting them out in the world — if they are blessed enough to come home — and they haven't dealt with anything. I think one of the reasons they don't get the help they need is because we don't look at mental health services as something that should be part of a larger healthcare initiative. I didn't even realize anxiety and depression was considered a mental health issue until I started going to therapy. When you think mental health, you think schizophrenia, you think somebody in a straitjacket, but no, it's people dealing with these issues every single day and they just don't have the proper tools and resources to go deal with it.
Harris: And then we deal with it when it reaches a crisis level. You would never say that we should have a health care system that only deals with stage four cancer.
On The Breakfast Club, you talked about legalizing marijuana and having smoked it in college.
Harris: But I definitely was not clear about what I was listening to. [laughing]
Charlamagne: If the weed was good, she shouldn't remember.
As a public policy issue, South Carolina hasn't even legalized medical marijuana. You're from a state that has legalized it recreationally. What do you think the early results from that have been?
Harris: It has become a cash cow industry. There are people who are making a ton of money in this new industry and excluding the very people who have been doing the same work for years and have been have been designated felons for life. We need to allow those folks to expunge their records and put them first in line for the jobs. And not only the jobs, but also to get the licenses to run the businesses.
Charlamagne: South Carolina is also a good ol' boy state. Prisons are a big business here, so it's going to be hard for them to decriminalize marijuana when they can lock so many people up for it.
On the primary race, you've drawn relatively big, diverse crowds in S.C., but it hasn't been reflected in the polls. Why is that?
Harris: The top three people in this race have been on the national scene for decades. One of the important facts you're seeing in polling is that as well known as they are, the voters aren't committing to them. What we know is that when I have the opportunity — which I will take as often as I possibly and physically can — to be in a room like this, people come to us. When they know where I stand on issues, when they know my background, when they know about my experience, they come to us. So the challenge is to do exactly what I'm doing now which is introduce myself.
You talk on the stump about Obama in 2007 initially struggling to convince black voters that he could win. Do you see yourself as the Obama of 2020?
Harris: I'm the Kamala of 2020. An intervening fact between 2008 and 2020 is 2016 and what happened during that election. An intervening fact is that Donald Trump is in the White House. So there is nothing really about 2008 that is about 2020, in terms of where people are there, the psyche of the nation, what is at stake. This is a whole other time.
Charlamagne, as someone who grew up here, why do you think so many black voters say they view Joe Biden as the "safe" choice?
Charlamagne: I don't know how they view him as a safe choice. He's a guy that authored the crack law with Sen. Strom Thurmond. He authored the crime bill. Nothing got more black and brown people locked up than both of those bills, so what was safe about that? It's not a knock on him, it's just the truth. People change, people evolve, but I don't know why they say "safe." Maybe they say "safe" because they think he can win. But when you look at the polls and you look at the country right now, I don't think there is a safe choice. I think you've got to vote your interest.
As we approach the end of 2019, what are your albums of the decade?
Charlamagne: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Kanye West)
Harris: Lemonade (Beyoncé)