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October 22, 2010 at 6:27 PM

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Urban League calls for special commission after justices' remarks on race

Posted by Cathy McLain

From Times staff reporter Carly Flandro

James Kelly, CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, called for action Friday after reading remarks from state Supreme Court Justices Richard Sanders and Jim Johnson regarding African-American populations in prison.

The justices said African Americans are overrepresented because they commit a disproportionate amount of crime.

"What are these two guys doing on the State Supreme Court?" Kelly asked.

He is calling for Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Madsen to "establish a special commission on racial disproportions in the criminal-justice system and to make recommendations on how to modernize the system and ensure equal justice before the law," according to an Urban League news release.

"Clearly if two seated justices think there are more African Americans in jail only because they have a crime problem, then there's a problem that goes to the top," Kelly said.

The justices made the statements on Oct. 7 at the Temple of Justice in Olympia during the presentation of a report on improving the effectiveness of boards and commissions set up by the Supreme Court to ensure fair treatment in the courts for minorities and other groups.

African Americans make up about 4 percent of Washington's population, according to the Urban League news release, but comprise nearly 20 percent of the state prison population.

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