- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

JACKSONVILLE, Ark. (AP) - An outspoken Arkansas circuit court judge told a forum gathered Monday to discuss policing and the black community that there is systematic injustice in law enforcement.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen made the comments during the We Speak! community forum in Jacksonville. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other officials also spoke to the more than 200 in attendance.

Griffen, who is also a preacher, said police unfairly target minorities and treat them differently.

“It isn’t accidental when a white person can commit murder and get arrested safely and a black person can’t walk around safely without worrying about being killed,” he said.

He cited the case of Philando Castile, a black man who was fatally shot by a police officer last month in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, during a traffic stop.

The judge has made public remarks about the war in Iraq and other political topics in the past. A complaint filed with the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission in 2007 over similar statements was dismissed after the panel found Griffen was engaging in constitutionally protected speech, according to the commission’s website.

Hutchinson defended his administration’s efforts to address some of the underlying issues in the criminal justice system, including increasing alternative sentencing courts and prisoner re-entry programs.

The governor has openly criticized Griffen’s ruling late last year that found the state’s execution secrecy law to be unconstitutional. The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned that ruling in June.

Several audience members asked whether Hutchinson or the Legislature could mandate increased police training or appoint a special body or prosecutor to investigate police misconduct and use of force. Hutchinson said he does not have the legal authority to create that type of body. He also said it was too early to say whether the Legislature would consider increasing requirements for law enforcement officers given recent shootings in other states.

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