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Kamala Harris pulls out of criminal justice forum over Trump award

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By Deepa Shivaram and Dareh Gregorian  with NBC News Politics
Image: Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. Kamala Harris Attends Asian a
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris fields questions at the Asian and Latino Coalition at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa on Feb. 23, 2019.   -   Copyright  Stephen Maturen Getty Images file

Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris said Friday she won't take part in a forum being held a historically black college in Columbia, South Carolina this weekend after President Donald Trump was given a "Bipartisan Justice Award."

"As the only candidate who attended an HBCU, I know the importance that these spaces hold for young Black Americans," Harris, who was slated to participate in Second Step Presidential Justice Forum at Benedict College on Saturday, said in a statement.

The California senator cited the fact that only a limited number of students from the school were allowed to attend Trump's remarks as the final straw.

"Today, when it became clear Donald Trump would receive an award after decades of celebrating mass incarceration, pushing the death penalty for innocent Black Americans, rolling back police accountability measures and racist behavior that puts people's lives at risk, and then learned all but ten Benedict students are excluded from participating, I cannot in good faith be complicit in papering over his record," Harris said.

The event's organizer, the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center, cited Trump's work in getting the criminal justice reform measure the First Step Act passed as the impetus for the award.

Trump tweeted that it was "my true honor" to receive the award.

Reporters at the site said only seven students were in attendance for Trump's address in the 275-person capacity theater, which was packed with Trump allies and supporters. Students were not allowed to ask questions.

Columbia newspaper The State reported that about half the tickets for the event were reserved for guests of the administration, while the other half were distributed locally. The school told the paper there were spots saved for up to 10 students.

Harris said she plans to hold a criminal justice roundtable elsewhere in the state Saturday, instead.

Previous winners of the Bipartisan Justice Award include Harris and Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican.

Other Democratic presidential candidates still taking part in the forum at Benedict over the next two days are former Rep. John Delaney, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.