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Local activists vow to keep fighting after Newsom vetoes jail deaths bill

Yusef Miller has been advocating for change inside San Diego County jails for years. He co-founded the North County Equity Justice Coalition Saving Lives in Custody Campaign.

He said it’s shocking Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the Saving Lives In Custody Act, a bill intended to prevent more deaths.

"We believed in you [Gov. Newsom], we supported you and when it came down to the zero hour then we get stabbed in the heart," he said.

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But more than that, he said, the families of some of the victims feel so betrayed, they want to leave the grassroots coalition he helped build to create change. "You have set them back so far not only politically but emotionally," he said. "Some of them... even went for extra counseling just from the effects of this vetoing of the  bill."

Miller said he is working with the families, to bring them back into the coalition and to understand their pain. "You made a hurt in these families' hearts that I’m still trying to bridge the gap, and still trying plug the holes that these families felt from this veto," he said, once again addressing the governor.   

Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber introduced AB 2343 in response to a state audit of the San Diego County jail system. It found inmate deaths in San Diego County jails have ranked among the highest in California for the past 15 years.

Weber said authorities have consistently failed to address the problem, and said she is disappointed by the veto. "I believe that they got this wrong, they got this veto wrong," she told KPBS Friday. "Status quo is not working." 

In his veto message, Newsom said he was rejecting the bill because it called for adding both a licensed healthcare provider and a licensed mental health provider to the 13-member Board of State and Community Corrections. He said those additions could impede the board’s ability to timely carry out its mission.

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Weber said that’s a poor excuse because the board doesn’t have any members with medical or mental health backgrounds. "We need someone with a medical profession to make sure that the basic policies and standards procedures that we have in place for people who have substance abuse disorders and other medical issues are doing it correctly," she said.

She added that the issues inside the jails include a growing fentanyl problem that only these kinds of experts can address. "If you have those people on the board it doesn't slow down the process. It can actually speed it up because you have that voice of expertise there."

Both Miller and Weber said this fight is not over.

"The very first thing is to reassure the families that we can do this," Miller said, adding that he and Weber plan to hold a rally Monday at 10 a.m. at the state administration building in downtown San Diego.  

Weber also had a message for the families." Now is not the time to be discouraged," she said, "it is time to renew the fight within and get ready for the next battle."

Weber said she is preparing to reintroduce the bill.

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