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Criminal justice reform advocates fighting to ‘restore the rights of our people’

Even after losing two brothers to gun violence, Tinisch Hollins doesn’t believe more police and tougher sentences are solutions to violence.

She grew up in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood and is now fighting to reform California’s criminal justice system that put a disproportionate number of Black and Brown people behind bars.

“I think folks are aware that all the investments over the decades that have gone into mass incarceration that have gone into the tough-on-crime approach didn’t necessarily make our communities safer,” she said in a recent interview with KTVU.

Hollins works as the Associate Director of Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit criminal justice reform organization. While many working in the reform movement are formerly incarcerated people, Hollins brings an important perspective as a crime survivor.

“This movement around criminal justice reform is to restore the rights of our people,” she said. “It’s time for us to right the wrong and not just for the benefit of Black and Brown folks but for the benefit of our entire society.”

Many like Hollins see criminal justice reform as the civil rights issue of our time. And during Black History Month, she said it’s more important than ever to recognize our country’s past that led to the present situation.

According to a 2019 report by the Public Policy Institute of California, African American men made up about 29% of the state prison population and were imprisoned at ten times the rate of white men.

Investing in communities and focusing on rehabilitation over punishment are solutions Hollins believes will help reduce violence long term.

“So much of the conversation has been pitted around whether people are good or bad or right or wrong and not enough on whether we are addressing the root issue,” she said.

And high-profile police killings of people of color continue to reverberate in communities that have long experienced higher rates of policing and more frequent negative interactions with officers.

Many lawmakers in California vowed to take on police accountability and the mass incarceration of Black people following the killing of George Floyd last year. Most of those efforts, however, died on the floor of the legislature last year.

Still, advocates are moving forward with a new volley of bills this year – including a proposed law that would de-certify problem officers and one to reform lengthy sentences.

“There are a number of studies out there that show that black and brown communities are over-monitored, over police, over incarcerated are given longer sentences,” said Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles).

She’s vice-chair of the Legislative Black Caucus and is co-sponsoring several bills that are similar to the proposed laws that failed last year.

“The arc that bends toward justice is long and each generation is required to do its part over and over again to fight to get us there,” she said.

Evan Sernoffsky

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