Wash. State Justices’ Remarks About Black Criminals, ‘Poverty Pimps’ Stun Audience

Two Washington Supreme Court justices say there’s a reason why African Americans are overrepresented in the state prison population: They commit a disproportionate number of crimes.

Justices Richard Sanders and James Johnson reportedly disputed that racial discrimination plays a role in the disparity in remarks that “stunned some participants” at a recent court meeting, the Seattle Times reports.

Johnson also reportedly used the term “poverty pimp” although there was some dispute about what he meant. Shirley Bondon, who manages state programs to remove barriers to the legal system, said she believed he was referring to legal-aid workers who serve the poor.

The newspaper was unable to contact Johnson, but Sanders confirmed his comments.

“Certain minority groups” are “disproportionally represented in prison because they have a crime problem,” Sanders told the newspaper. “I think that’s obvious.” He said he has a reputation for standing up for those accused of crimes, but he hasn’t seen any evidence that blacks are disproportionately imprisoned because of their race.

The newspaper spoke to several people at the meeting in an effort to confirm the comments, including Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, Justice Susan Owens and Justice Debra Stephens. Madsen didn’t remember the poverty pimp remark, but she confirmed the comments about race and said she stopped the conversation because she didn’t think it was productive. Owens and Stephens also confirmed the remarks.

African Americans represent about 4 percent of Washington’s population but nearly 20 percent of the state prison population.

The newspaper says such some researchers have attributed national disparities to sentencing practices, poor legal representation, drug-enforcement policies and police procedures that unfairly affect African Americans.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

Prior coverage of Justice Sanders:

ABAJournal.com: “Wash. Justice Awarded Documents, Fees in Public Records Case”

ABAJournal.com: “Wash. Justice Now Admits ‘Tyrant’ Outburst During Mukasey Speech”

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