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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Haskell apologizes for wife’s racist comments on social media, but advocates say prosecutor needs to do more

Prosecutor Larry Haskell on election night 2014.  (Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell has issued a formal apology for racist comments his wife made on social media.

Haskell made the apology on his office’s official website in response to an Inlander article about the offensive and outspoken comments Lesley Haskell has made on social media, including using the N-word to describe MSNBC host Joy Reid, who is Black, and using racial slurs for Chinese people, white people, Latinos, Jews and gay people. Lesley Haskell also described herself as a “proud white nationalist.” She did not respond to a request for comment sent to her Facebook account.

Some advocates for Spokane’s communities of color are calling for Haskell’s resignation following his wife’s racist comments.

Spokane Community Against Racism has asked “all citizens of Spokane, and especially those with political power, to do everything within their control to ensure Larry Haskell cannot continue as Spokane County Prosecutor.”

Jac Archer, an organizer and program coordinator for Spokane Community Against Racism, stopped short of saying Haskell should step down, but said Spokane would be better off without him as prosecutor.

“There’s a certain point at which someone loses so much credibility as a fair actor that they can no longer effectively do their job,” Archer said. “There is such an appearance of racial bias coming out of the prosecutor’s office that people of color in this county can’t reasonably trust that they’re getting fair treatment from this governmental entity that is meant to enact justice.”

Lesley Haskell’s public positions taken on social media have been an issue at least since 2015, when Larry Haskell apologized for the “angst” caused by his wife’s anti-Muslim comments. At the time, Haskell also faced criticism because his wife appeared to be commenting publicly on cases he was prosecuting.

Larry Haskell has argued that it is unfair to assume he shares Lesley Haskell’s positions. He told the Inlander his wife is strong-willed and has a right to express herself. He has previously stressed he has no legal ability to stop her from making public comments. In the recent apology letter issued from his office, he said he has never tolerated “racial bias or discrimination in any form.”

“I want to strongly reassure everyone that what was expressed in the Inlander, as my wife’s comments, are not my views nor the views of the prosecutor’s office – nor should they ever be. No amount of republishing of her social media posts will make that so. I have never and will never use such language. I apologize for the language and content as contained in the article,” Haskell’s statement said.

Haskell, who did not respond to requests for comment, was first elected Spokane County prosecutor in 2014 and was re-elected in 2018. The Republican has filed to run for a third term in this year’s elections.

Community advocates said Haskell’s apology and repudiation of his wife’s comments are welcome. But several questioned whether his views truly differ from his wife’s.

“There is just no way that I don’t believe those sentiments are shared,” Spokane NAACP President Kiantha Duncan said. “They’re shared.”

Curtis Hampton, who leads Spokane Community Against Racism’s Court Watch program, said he doubts Haskell’s apology was sincere.

“I think it’s kind of like when you’re a kid and you get caught with a cookie,” Hampton said. “ ‘I’m not really sorry, but you caught me, so I’ll apologize.’ That’s how I felt about it.”

Even if Haskell is sincere, Hampton said, it’s not enough for him to denounce his wife’s comments.

“If you’re a public official, we expect more from you,” he said. “If I’m a public official and my wife is doing this, I’m going to say, ‘Honey, you need to find another hobby.’ ”

Both Duncan and Hampton said Haskell needs to meet with community members and make a genuine effort to combat racism in Spokane County.

“We spend too much time in the media shooting arrows at each other,” Hampton said. “I want to try to meet him where he is if he’ll try to meet me where I am.”

Ultimately, what Lesley Haskell says online is far less important than what Haskell does as prosecutor, community advocates said. They said his record shows a clear bias against people of color.

According to a 2017 analysis by the JFA Institute, Black people in Spokane County are 13 times more likely to be jailed than white people and Native Americans are 6.5 times more likely to be jailed. Black and Native American inmates stay in the Spokane County Jail longer than white people, too, and Haskell has historically charged more people for felonies than other county prosecutors throughout Washington state.

Sarah Dixit, co-chair of the Asian Pacific Island Coalition of Spokane, said Lesley and Larry Haskell help illustrate the distinction between explicit and implicit racism.

“We’re taught in media and in schools that racism looks like Lesley,” Dixit said, “when really, a lot of the time racism looks like Larry – the more insidious ways the system works against, and keeps, communities of color down.”

In 2018, Haskell ran for re-election unopposed. So far, no one has filed to run against him in 2022.

All community advocates interviewed said that if Haskell wins again, it will reflect poorly on Spokane County.

“It would mean that a real majority of this community places little to no value on equal justice for all,” Archer said. “It would honestly break my heart.”