More of Prosecutor Haskell?
Haven’t we heard and seen enough?
Larry Haskell has been the subject of controversy since shortly after he was first elected Spokane County Prosecutor in 2014. In 2015 and again more recently his wife Lesley’s racist comments on the Christian nationalist social media site Gab made national news. Even so, by 2018 the 2015 incident was largely forgotten. Haskell ran unopposed in 2018. That makes the current election (Nov. 8, 2022—next Tuesday) the first opportunity for voters to replace him. In this August’s primary the vote was split four ways with Mr. Haskell garnering only 28.03%, Deb Conklin coming in a close second with 27.14%, and two other challengers (both identifying as Republicans) splitting the remainder with 20 and 24%. (It’s worth noting that a single election using Ranked Choice Voting might well have simply elected one of Haskell’s challengers instead of producing a narrow vote split—given the controversy that swirls around Mr. Haskell.)
As long as Mr. Haskell remains Spokane County Prosecutor and Lesley’s social media posts make national news, his presence in office will only boost the Inland Northwest’s reputation for racism first brought to national attention by Richard Butler, his Aryan Nations compound and his “Church of Jesus Christ–Christian” north of Hayden, Idaho, starting in the 1970s.
Do Lesley Haskell’s vile social media posts shade into her husband’s actions as Prosecutor? Of course, Mr. Haskell denies that they do, but there is ample reason to distrust claims of intellectual independence when his positions on local issues and prosecutorial decisions are analyzed in detail.
Anyone still pondering the choice of voting for Deb Conklin (Non-partisan) or for Larry Haskell (R) for Spokane County Prosecutor should first read the piece copied below from an October 30, 2022, RANGEmedia article entitled “A Fish Rots from the Head Down” by Kurtis Robinson:
We have to stop denying the connections and embrace the realities.
We are not making progress on ending racism and racial disproportion in our criminal legal system in Spokane County. We continue to have incredibly harmful, damaging, oppressive and dehumanizing practices running rampant through both our legal and political system.
Disproportionate arrest rates, bail amounts and sentence terms for people of color are just as bad as they were in 2019, when the Spokane-County-funded JFA report detailed not just that indigenous and Black people were 6.5 and 13 times more likely to be locked up than white people, respectively, but they also tend to stay in jail longer. Three years later, those statistics still hold.
Several individuals in critical positions of power are responsible for maintaining this status quo of oppression and harm, especially to our communities of color. Among them, no individual has more power to maintain — or dismantle — the rate at which we push our fellow Spokanites through these oppressive systems than Prosecutor Larry Haskell.
Haskell (and many others who have been protecting the status quo) has perpetuated the oppression and radical damage to marginalized communities during his tenure, all the while denying that is his intent.
Haskell's standard operating procedures demonstrate that racial disproportionalities under his tough-on-crime policies have continued, yet right alongside that has also been his continued denial of implementing or reinforcing racist practices.
The reality, though, is that he has actively opposed reforms that would make the system more just and equitable.
He even opposed adding the word “equity” to missional language for the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council, a council he then worked to downsize and undermine. I served with Haskell on the Justice Task Force for Spokane County and witnessed him continually deny the realities of racial disproportionality, which I spoke out about at the time. That’s before even talking about his office charging more drug cases than any other prosecutor’s office in Washington State and his historic resistance to alternatives to sentencing such as coordinated reentry.
All the while, his response is I'm just doing my job. I'm just following the law. Haskell says he has no racism in his heart, but we know his wife does. She has openly called herself a “white nationalist” and makes openly racist statements on social media.
We know Haskell’s actions as prosecutor are aligned with his wife’s views because she applauds him, going so far as to say he’s one of the last true conservatives in Spokane:
Politicians can say anything they want about their intentions. What we as voters must ask ourselves is whether those words match up with their actions, and the consequences of those actions.
At the end of September, three retired local judges took Haskell — and Sheriff Knezovich — to task in the Spokesman-Review for attacking judges who release the accused on their own recognizance and for spreading falsehoods about release leading to higher crime rates.
The actual data, the judges write, is that less than 1.5% of people reoffend in Spokane while awaiting trial, concluding:
“Knezovich and Haskell show contempt for the courts. They criticize without facts. They fail to get evidence to courts. They fail to appeal but instead make public announcements, free from fact checking and accountability.
In their world, an arrested person should be kept in jail on their say so. Woe to a judge who applies the law. In their world, there is no presumption of innocence, only a presumption of guilt. Good luck to the citizen who is caught in their clutches.”
In Spokane, Black, Indigenous and other people of color are disproportionately caught in those clutches, but every year thousands of white people are ensnared, too. These policies affect everyone who is too poor to post bail, and in throwing as many charges as they can at most defendants, the prosecutor’s office seeks the highest allowable bail in almost every case.
We exacerbate poverty in our region by criminalizing it.
Knezovich is not running again, but Haskell is. It’s time for Spokane, as a community, to stand up and say we will not continue to allow an individual demonstrating such massive cognitive dissonance and disingenuous behavior to be re-elected. It’s time to hold him accountable.
We must ask ourselves as an Eastern Washington community, and as a Spokane human family: “Is this who we are?”
Are we a people that will continually believe buckets of misinformation, tacit undermining of human dignity, and complete lack of accountability for himself, his office and its organizational affiliates. The Bible says “you strain out a gnat but you swallow a camel.”
Is that who we are? A community that goes through the motions of attending DEI trainings, celebrating the memory of civil rights leaders without committing to real change, and talking a good game about racial justice while giving systems of oppression and the politicians who prop them up term after term in office?
I know my answer. Do you?
Kurtis Robinson works to dismantle systemic racism and injustice and to mitigate the harm done while those systems persist.
Robinson is executive director of Revive Center for Returning Citizens and I Did the Time. He is a commissioner for the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, a member of the Governor’s Hate Crimes Advisory Work Group, the Spokane County Criminal Justice Advisory Group, Smart Justice Spokane. He is NAACP State Area Conference Political Action Chair and is the past-president and current 1st Vice President of NAACP Spokane.
Keep to the high ground,