A Republican state senator in Yakima, Washington said in a committee hearing late last week said that he believes that “colored” people are “more likely to commit crimes” because they are poor.
According to Seattle’s The Stranger, Sen. Jim Honeyford made the remarks during a hearing in which Democratic legislators and a representative of the Washington Defender Association attempted to explain the need for racial impact statements when assessing and passing laws.
Racial impact statements are projections of the ways in which a piece of legislation may disproportionately affect one racial sub-group over another. For instance, stiffer sentences for crack cocaine users and sellers versus those for powder cocaine disproportionately affect blacks, punishing people of color more harshly than white offenders who have committed nearly identical crimes.
The studies are similar to environmental impact statements, which examine the ways in which a proposed law will affect soil, water and air quality in the region to which the law pertains.
However, when the Washington state committee took up the issue last Thursday, Republican legislators dragged their feet, not understanding the purpose of the exercise.
“I guess I don’t understand,” said Sen. Barbara Bailey (R), “why our laws that we already have don’t already have the oversight of this particular situation that you’re talking about. So are you indicating that we would then change our laws, that if you are someone of color and you commit a crime, that your sentence would be different than someone who is not of color?”
Honeyford — who represents a majority-Latino district — said, “It’s generally accepted that the poor are more likely to commit crimes. And generally, I think, accepted that people of color are more likely poor than not. So how does that factor into your equation?”
Democratic Sen. Bob Hasegawa said, “It’s probably true that there’s more people of color in jails or facing prosecutions. But these types of analyses will help us get to the root of what is actually causing that kind of disparate treatment.”
“I want to correct what I said,” Honeyford countered. “I said the poor are more likely to commit crimes, and, uh, colored most likely to be poor. I didn’t say anything else other than that. And I believe that’s an accepted fact, and if you check any of your sociology books or anything else you’ll find that’s an accepted fact of our society.”
The Stranger‘s Ansel Herz pointed to an ACLU statement about the intersection of race, poverty and crime, which said, “Indeed, for many, poverty is at the root of their involvement in the criminal justice system in the first place, as shown in the Vera report, a recent ACLU lawsuit in Georgia, and elsewhere. As a result, an inability to pay these fees and fines needlessly keeps poor defendants in jail—or sends them back—while their richer counterparts walk free because they can afford proper representation. Adding to these injustices, as with so many criminal justice, economic, and social policies, the myriad problems with our jail system disproportionately harm communities of color.”