It’s been over a week now since six people were killed and 12 injured in a shooting in downtown Sacramento on a busy weekend night. While the facts of the case are still being investigated, many politicians have wasted no time using the tragedy to push their political viewpoints.

With the state’s primary elections just two months away, KQED’s Brian Watt spoke with KQED Politics Correspondent Marisa Lagos, who has covered criminal justice policy and politics for over a decade, about how politicians are responding to this appalling yet familiar moment in California’s history.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

BRIAN WATT: This was a horrific event and it’s understandable that people want answers, but what are we hearing from politicians on both sides of the aisle so far?

MARISA LAGOS: Democrats have really leaned into the gun control message. They moved a bill that would make it easier to go after people who manufacture ghost guns. I would say that they are pushing existing legislation, but you know, we already have many of the strongest gun control laws in the nation here, and we’ve still seen some 13 mass shootings this year, Brian, so clearly gun control is not the only answer.

BRIAN WATT: Is that the kind of thing that Republicans are quick to point out?

MARISA LAGOS: On the conservative side, there’s a jump to blame Democrats, to focus more on criminal justice reforms, laws and policies that the Democrats have always opposed.

Republicans and conservatives are saying they want people who commit crimes to receive longer sentences and have less opportunities to get out of prison. They’ve really focused this week on something called Proposition 57, which was a ballot measure that lets nonviolent inmates shorten their prison sentences if they work towards rehabilitation while they’re incarcerated.

BRIAN WATT: How is Proposition 57 related to this latest tragedy in Sacramento?

MARISA LAGOS: One of the men who has been arrested in connection with the shooting is named Smiley Martin. He has a criminal history dating back to 2013, and was released from prison in February after serving almost half of a 10-year sentence that was related to an assault of a former girlfriend.

We’ve heard a lot of critiques from Republicans that the governor’s parole board had let him out early, and that actually isn’t totally true.

It is starting to seem, as we learn more about the case, that maybe he did get credits because of Prop. 57. But it’s complicated because he actually qualified for Prop. 57 in part because the Sacramento district attorney made a plea deal with him.

So this assault wasn’t considered violent, and they didn’t go for the kidnapping charge. This all matters politically because the Sacramento district attorney, Anne Marie Schubert, is running for attorney general and she’s running really from the right of the current attorney general, and trying to attack him on things like Prop. 57.

BRIAN WATT: But Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, is among those arguing that the issue goes beyond gun control, saying it’s actually systemic?

MARISA LAGOS: He’s also talking about the need to not just lock people up, but actually help them turn their lives around once they’re out. Here’s what he said during a news conference last week:

SACRAMENTO MAYOR DARRELL STEINBERG: Until these systems have a legal requirement to meet that person leaving the county jail and wrap ourselves around them to ensure that they’re sheltered, housed, that they’re treated for whatever underlying conditions they have, that they are provided some sort of vocational assistance, so they can work, until that is required as a matter of law, all this money is going to help a lot of people.

MARISA LAGOS: Steinberg joined with several state lawmakers and criminal justice reform advocates this past week and asked the governor to make a $3 billion investment to what they see as ways to tackle these systemic problems. They say, funding community groups that work on the ground directly to prevent violence … funding ways that survivors and victims can actually get financial assistance to keep themselves safe and deal with the fallout from these traumas are going to be more effective over the long term than simply, say, funding more law enforcement.

BRIAN WATT: And how does that line up with what you’re hearing from victims and those who work directly with survivors of violent crime?

MARISA LAGOS: When I go out and talk to people who have lost family members or been victims themselves or just people who live in communities where unfortunately we see this type of gun violence happen regularly, I hear a lot of frustration with kind of everybody in the political world. They feel like they’re not being heard. I recently went to Fairfield and talked to Ebony Antoine about her experience. Her husband was gunned down in their Stockton apartment in 2010. They believe that it was because he had helped to respond to another shooting outside of their door not long before, and that he was kind of mistaken for a witness by gang members. But there’s been no arrest. This killing happened in front of her three kids and her godson, and she says the public programs meant to help victims like her that are actually written into law were either difficult or impossible to actually secure.

EBONY ANTOINE: Honestly, I was treated like I really didn’t matter. I had to advocate for everything. I didn’t have Section 8, I didn’t have any housing. I thought that maybe they would assist me with the emergency shelter. They did not. They did cover the funeral. I sent in receipts for movers. Somehow, they were lost, so I was never reimbursed. I didn’t have the money to move into an apartment. Every time they say no, it is so hard to pull yourself back together.

MARISA LAGOS: Ebony Antoine now runs a nonprofit called Broken by Violence, that helps victims and their families in Solano County access those services that she’s struggled to get.

BRIAN WATT: The primaries are approaching, and it seems like crime is going to be a big issue in that election and the November midterms, both here and nationally. So what are you watching for?

MARISA LAGOS: I just hope that we don’t see legislation and policy sort of done by anecdote before we have all the facts especially, and that we acknowledge the cycles of trauma that we’ve seen play out over decades. Often the people who tend to be victims or survivors or have family members who are victimized end up in the system themselves. Ebony told me that her godson was a teenager when that murder happened in front of him. He is now in prison for murder himself. So I just hope we can kind of come together and put the politics aside.

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