Washington State Supreme Court justices Richard Sanders and James Johnson stunned participants at a court meeting when they said African Americans are overrepresented in the prison population because they commit a disproportionate number of crimes, says the Seattle Times. Both justices disputed the view held by some that racial discrimination plays a significant role in the disparity. Johnson used the term “poverty pimp,” an apparent reference to people who purportedly exploit the poor in the legal system.
Sanders confirmed his remarks about imprisoned African Americans, saying “certain minority groups” are “disproportionally represented in prison because they have a crime problem.” He told the Times this week. “I think that’s obvious.” African Americans represent about 4 percent of Washington’s population but nearly 20 percent of the state prison population. Similar disparities nationwide have been attributed by some researchers to sentencing practices, inadequate legal representation, drug-enforcement policies, and criminal-enforcement procedures that unfairly affect African Americans. Kitsap County District Court Judge James Riehl, who attended the meeting, said he was “stunned” because, as a trial judge for 28 years, he was “acutely aware” of barriers to equal treatment in the legal system.