U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore

Sheriff Clarke Should Drop the Act

He's become the vehicle for dog-whistle narratives that Fox anchors would never dare utter themselves.

By - Jun 5th, 2015 01:20 pm
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. Photo by Garrick Jannene.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. Photo by Garrick Jannene.

Our sheriff isn’t like most American sheriffs. He’s a self-proclaimed Democrat, an outspoken Tea Party activist, and a regular on prime time cable news.

You may have seen Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke on one of his numerous appearances on the Fox News Channel lashing out at President Obama. You might recognize him from his appearance before the National Rifle Association proposing the placement of a semi-automatic rifle on our country’s presidential seal. You may have even watched his infamous 2013 campaign ad advocating vigilantism instead of dialing 911 in the event of a burglary.

The country is just now getting to know Sheriff Clarke, but I’m all too familiar with his inflammatory antics. His proclivity for provocation coupled with his distorted view of black America has grown more extreme over the years, earning him numerous appearances on Fox News. He has helped the network spread a slew of dangerous narratives that serve only to rouse the most extreme elements of the Tea Party.

It’s clear that Fox News and Sheriff Clarke have developed a symbiotic relationship. He needs the cable news network for its national platform; Fox needs a black sheriff to give voice to the dog-whistle narratives its anchors dare not vocalize themselves. Do you think Megyn Kelly could get away with making the claim that racial inequality is a thing of the past or calling Attorney General Eric Holder a “race hustler”?

As easy as it is to be enraged by Sheriff Clarke’s flagrant grandstanding, we should recognize that he isn’t the problem but only a symptom. In today’s conservative media landscape, the need to inflame will always undermine the responsibility to inform, and reporting will always take a backseat to ratings. Both Fox News and Sheriff Clarke realize that one can bypass the complexities and nuances of sensitive topics by simply maintaining the us versus them approach used by right-wing media giant Ann Coulter.

But the sheriff’s brand of hostile punditry is especially irresponsible coming from someone wearing a uniform and badge.

Last month during a congressional committee hearing on policing strategies, Sheriff Clarke was given an opportunity to address the strained relationship between police and the communities they’re sworn to protect. Rather than providing the committee with the sensible testimony one would expect from a law enforcement official with 37 years of experience, he offered some of the same ugly, accusatory rhetoric we’ve come to expect from Milwaukee’s new Tea Party folk hero.

Sheriff Clarke’s biting temperament was on full display as he vilified the federal government for intervening in local law enforcement issues and slammed the “liberal mainstream media” for their coverage of high-profile shootings. He continued his ongoing absolution of America’s police from any and all wrongdoing and insisted that “black underclass subculture behavior” and hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter are the crux of the problem.

When we identify the obvious racial inequities in our society, we do so in our desire to repair that which is broken, not to demonize those who have committed their lives to protecting the public. We recognize that good police officers play a vital role in our communities, but we can no longer be complacent in a culture that breeds bad ones. Citizens, lawmakers, and community stakeholders should to be able to debate these issues thoughtfully and express our collective frustration over our country’s failure to live up to its promise of “justice for all” without Sheriff Clarke and others calling us “cop haters” and “criminal-loving elitists.”

Sheriff Clarke and his Tea Party followers live in a black-and-white world where merely investigating accusations of police discrimination and racial mistreatment is tantamount to treason. He is unapologetic in his blind defense of law enforcement officials, even in the most egregious circumstances. After the Justice Department released its report detailing “unlawful bias” among Ferguson’s police force, Sheriff Clarke immediately took to Fox to emphatically reject the findings, calling them a “witch hunt.” “I’m not buying one word of [Holder’s] conclusion,” he told Neil Cavuto. “The attorney general doesn’t have any integrity anymore.”

Unlike Sheriff Clarke, I refuse to dismiss this growing crisis. Recently, I introduced an amendment to a federal spending bill that would increase funding for the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act, enhancing training for police responding to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. It is my hope that improved training and preparation will lead to fewer tragedies like that of Dontre Hamilton, a young man whose life was cut short after an officer shot him multiple times in a public park. Both Sheriff Clarke and I are well aware of his case. He was our constituent.

I’m not a fan of Sheriff Clarke or his politics, but I do believe he could provide a valuable voice to this national conversation. Unfortunately, his appetite for the spotlight continues to erode what little credibility he has left, and his authority is further weakened under the weight of his own theatrics. If the sheriff truly wants to help us, it’s time for him to prove that he’s more than just another partisan agitator with a badge and a cowboy hat.

The self-proclaimed “people’s sheriff” needs to drop the sideshow act and get serious. Until then, I can only wonder if Sheriff Clarke is still a lawman or just a guy who plays one on TV.

U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore represents Wisconsin’s 4th Congressional District and serves as ranking member on the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade. 

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

48 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Sheriff Clarke Should Drop the Act”

  1. Mr. Snrub says:

    tl;dr, liberal Gwen Moore disagrees with conservative David Clarke.

  2. Andy says:

    It’s curious Gwen, that you would demonize Sheriff Clarke for his treatment of and rhetoric toward the decline of our inner-city communities – and this is not a defense of Clarke, as I largely agree with you on this point – when as representative you’ve been so friendly toward Wall Street in your support and co-sponsorship of bills aimed at deregulating the financial sector. How is that relevant to the decline of inner-city communities, some may ask?

    Many of the people hardest hit by the housing sector collapse of 2008 lived in America’s inner cities, the victims of predatory lending practices. It was the reckless and greedy behavior of the banksters in this country who made a killing by playing with other people’s money, and basically got away with one of the biggest thefts and frauds of our generation when. To this day, not a single bankster has been prosecuted. And yet through a stunning show of ‘bi-partisanship’ on your part, you’ve supported and sponsored legislation to loosen regulations on those very institutions, legislation that is awfully popular to our friends across the aisle.

    I understand in today’s political climate you’re just doing favors for your campaign donors, given that the financial sector is among your biggest contributors – and it’s a shame that our system of campaign finance has effectively devolved to a state of legalized bribery – but that said, it seems you’ve forgotten your roots in an effort to solidify your place within congress. The very communities you claim to want to defend and protect are the same communities hardest hit when these crooks made out like bandits, and rather than represent the will of your democratic constituents by trying to ensure such a disaster never happens again, you’ve instead sided with the establishment.

    To be sure, Sheriff Clarke is loon and a loud-mouth who has no place wearing a badge – good thing the sheriff’s dept has basically been relegated to highway and park patrol – but he’s damned principled; you’ve got to give him that. You’re not. You’re a hypocrite, and you seem to care only about the next election cycle and your own job security.

  3. Tyrell Track Master says:

    Boom. Great op/ed. Thank you congresswoman!

  4. AG says:

    What a pair of loons we have in Clark and Moore. The fact that we have these two as our representatives would be comical if they didn’t hold such important jobs…

  5. Casey says:

    Andy -Standing Ovation-

  6. Nicholas says:

    I truly want to understand why Clarke has so many fans?

    Is it because of his tough talk? But what does tough-talk actually do? Especially when he is the head of a department that really doesn’t fight all that much violent crime. They don’t patrol the neighborhoods, they don’t even do the buses anymore really, and they are rarely at parks.

    So what of his accomplishments as Sheriff make him this crime fighting hero?

  7. Dean Deardurff says:

    I used to live in Milwaukee for 5 years in the same district as Gleeme Moose. She is in fact a socialist and communist. Prove is when I wAS IN HER OFFICE IN mILWAUKEE, WITH ALL THE POSTERS OF A SOCIALIST AND COMMUNIST PLASTERED ALL THROUGH OUT HER OFFICE. I have a great respect for sheriff Clark though. He has his hands full with all the black asses in the county that don’t even look for work. Their schools that teach the constitution is out dated. The fact that blacks have caused the value of property to greatly reduce. That it has been run by a democratic party is another reason of it’s loss of economical value.

  8. Daniel says:

    Clarke’s deep-seated self-loathing, bis hatred of the color of his own skin, is evident in everything he does and says. It is at the core of his sociopathic, nay, psychopathic behavior.

  9. Paul says:

    Read this up to the point where she stated that he advocated vigilantism instead of dialing 911 in the event of a burglary. This is an outright lie, he always said call 911 first..She and her son are a disgrace to Wisconsin.

  10. Kent Mueller says:

    As a public figure for many years, Clarke should understand that his actual words are secondary to what people hear when he says them. What his PSAs boil down to is “Reach for the gun, don’t call 9-1-1”, that’s what people heard. I’m hard-pressed to think of a more irresponsible statement by a public figure and especially and officer of the law.
    Clarke is constantly on talk radio and frequently on Fox News. Even though the Sheriff’s department is reduced to court room security, freeway patrol and transporting prisoners, even though MPD will only call them in after exhausting the resources of the Boy Scouts Police Auxiliary troop, you’d think running the department would take more of his time. He’s paid for Fox News appearances and speaking engagements, but throws in talk radio for free while the taxpayers pay his salary.
    Politically he’s a strange hybrid, as the Black Friend of white conservatives he sweeps the southern suburbs of Milwaukee County and much of the South Side while securing a solid block of the Black vote. It’s not clear what his posturing will win him outside of county-wide office. If he and Donovan both run for Mayor, Donovan gets the South Side vote. Beyond Mayor, the white voters of Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington Counties like Clarke a lot, but probably not enough to elect him to state office. It’s not clear where he should turn his horse or tilt his cowboy hat from here on out.

  11. Ron Sekulski says:

    After reading some of the comments concerning the article and Sheriff Clark, I hear a continuance of villainizing a person who has a different viewpoint from one’s own. Destructive to our democratic foundation, we would all benefit if we listened with an open mind and focus on the issues and facts as opposed to attacking the person. Try reading Jacob Needleman’s books about the “intent” of the founding fathers and what once made our Nation great.

  12. i heard his comments on dialing 911.what he said was dial 911, but arm yourself to protect yourself.dont wait for us to arrive be prepared to defend yourself.everyone is out to villify any black who doesn’t sing their tune.when he bashes Eric holder and al sharpton he is correct.they only use race to stir up trouble and draw attention to their cause.

  13. PMD says:

    Clarke obviously has his fans. I know his rhetoric is popular with a lot of people. But isn’t it just that, a whole lot of bluster from someone who loves to see himself on TV? Is he truly interested in what’s best for the citizens of the county, or does he just crave media attention (while bashing the media any chance he gets)? The fact that be spouts off about “penis envy” and engages in so much heated rhetoric and name-calling makes it seem like he cares far more about getting on Fox News than doing what’s best for the public. Is that all it takes to wow people these days, tough talk about taking the fight to criminals rather than becoming a victim? It doesn’t take much courage or intelligence to talk to right-wing talk radio or Fox News.

  14. Paul says:

    Kent, maybe you and others should listen to his actual words instead of the spin people like Gwen put on them

  15. PMD says:

    I agree Paul. What did Clarke really mean when he talked of penis envy? What did those words actually mean?

  16. Paul says:

    PMD, we were talking about Gwen lying in the above post. As far as your question., ask him.

  17. PMD says:

    Newsflash: Clarke lies too Paul. Your extreme partisanship blinds you yet again. As long as Clarke bashes liberals, you and your ilk think he should be worshiped and treated like a hero.

  18. Paul says:

    PMD, so you’re admitting that Gwen lied in this post?

  19. PMD says:

    With an intruder in his home, Clarke stated that he would not dial 911 until after he shot and killed the intruder. Is that advocating vigilante justice?

  20. Paul says:

    PMD, answer the question, did Gwen lie in the above post. Why can’t you ever just answer a question instead of changing the subject?

  21. PMD says:

    Hello hypocrite. Says the guy who never answers questions (see above for examples of him not answering questions).

    She did not lie. Clarke explicitly advocated for vigilante justice by stating that he doesn’t call 911 until after he shoots and kills the intruder in his home. However you feel about guns, his words clearly state that someone who encounters an intruder in their home should shoot and kill the intruder and then dial 911. That’s vigilantism.

  22. Paul says:

    PMD, Gwen said that in the ad the Sheriff used in his reelection campaign he advocated vigilantism, that is a flat out lie

  23. Paul says:

    PMD, in your above comment, you stated Clarke lies too. Please post these lies

  24. PMD says:

    You could not be more wrong Paul (shocker). In the ad he says that dialing 911 isn’t the best option when it comes to personal safety. He says people need to take matters into their own hands by getting trained to use a firearm and defending yourself until whenever the police show up. In other words, get a gun, get trained, and take action because that’s a better option than calling 911. That is absolutely advocating vigilantism. You have to have your head completely buried in the sand to believe that he isn’t advocating vigilantism there.

  25. PMD says:

    -“I’ve either balanced every budget or we turned back a surplus.” – LIE

    -Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is responsible for the roughly $7,800 “I pay in property taxes per year.” – LIE

    -“When I was growing up as a kid in the city of Milwaukee, if we averaged 4 homicides a year in the entire city that was a record number.” – LIE

    -He’s “never asked for more” than inflationary budget increases in his 10 budgets as Milwaukee County sheriff – LIE

    That took a few seconds Paul. I’m sure there are more examples.

  26. Nicholas says:

    Ill ask again since none of the Clarke defenders answered;

    I truly want to understand why Clarke has so many fans?

    Is it because of his tough talk? But what does tough-talk actually do? Especially when he is the head of a department that really doesn’t fight all that much violent crime. They don’t patrol the neighborhoods, they don’t even do the buses anymore really, and they are rarely at parks.

    So what of his accomplishments as Sheriff make him this crime fighting hero?

  27. Paul says:

    PMD, once again, in the ads he ran he stated to call 911 first, and than yes, don’t just sit there being a victim

  28. Bruce Thompson says:

    Paul: The ad is on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8TCx-sM1vw&feature=player_embedded
    He never actually says to call 911 first. What he does say is “simply calling 911 and waiting is not enough.” That can be interpreted either way.
    Also he implies that the responders to the 911 call will be from his department, which I believe is untrue.

  29. Paul says:

    Bruce, I’ve heard the ad he put out and know what it said. All 911 calls from cell phones went to Sheriff’s first, then they would reroute it.

  30. Casey says:

    Paul- do you know when that changed? I ask because I made a 911 call on Sunday from my cell to report an abandoned car on I94 west. After confirmng the location of the issue, I was routed to Sherif’s dispatch.

  31. PMD says:

    Paul why won’t you answer Nicholas? You accuse others of not answering questions and he has asked very simple questions twice now. Please answer him. I’d also like to know.

  32. Paul says:

    Casey, luckily I haven’t had to call 911 for a few years now, but when I did every time it went right to the nearest sheriff’s station.

  33. Paul says:

    To answer the question, yes his tough talk helps but mostly because he backs it up, when the Hamilton protests shut down downtown Milwaukee the police chief and mayor did nothing and every protest went a little farther. It wasn’t until they messed with the sheriff’s jurisdiction that the unlawful protestors got put in their place.

  34. Nicholas says:

    So you validated my point.

    It is a glorified highway patrol that does nothing to actually combat violent crime in the city.

    His rhetoric is just that, and empty for that matter.

  35. PMD says:

    Hoes does tough talk help? What exactly does it accomplish (other than getting him Fox News appearances of course)? Anyone can talk tough. That in and of itself is no great achievement. What other examples of backing up tough talk do you have? You listed one. He has been sheriff for a long time now. Surely there are many examples causing you to so admire the man.

  36. Paul says:

    Nicholas, he cannot enforce anything in the city without the city leaders giving him permission, except in the case of an emergency.

  37. Paul says:

    PMD, where did I ever say that I admire the man?

  38. PMD says:

    Nicholas asked why he has fans, and what those fans like about him (most recently in post 26). You answered Nicholas in post 33. You never said you didn’t admire him when answering the question of what his fans like about him. So it stands to reason you’re a Clarke fan. If you are not just say so.

  39. Paul says:

    PMD. you kept pestering me to answer his question, so I did. So you admire Gwen because you never said you didn’t?

  40. PMD says:

    It isn’t really a stretch to suggest that you’re a fan of his since you took the time to defend him here while also bashing the author of this piece. As for Moore, I’m pretty indifferent.

  41. Paul Hruz says:

    PMD, so in your line of thinking it can not be a stretch to believe you are a fan of hers, seeing you defend her and bash those that call her out. By the way I’ve heard her speak many times and I know that she didn’t author this piece.

  42. PMD says:

    I have no problem with someone asking me if I am a fan of hers. I’m sure it’s very common for staff to ghost write. Surely that’s bipartisan.

  43. Paul says:

    PMD, are you also indifferent about her son, the one that was caught trying to suppress voter turnout ?

  44. PMD says:

    No Paul he is my personal hero. I can’t wait to suppress voter turnout on election day 2016. Me and my New Black Panther buddies will be at your polling place that day. See you then!

  45. Casey says:

    Paul – PMD What’s worse voter suppression which seems to be a Dem thing or voter disenfranchisement through policy which seems to be a Repub thing?

  46. Paul says:

    Who’s being disenfranchised, and by what policy? Proving who you are is not disenfranchisement.

  47. mr. parker says:

    PMD says:” his words clearly state that someone who encounters an intruder in their home should shoot and kill the intruder and then dial 911. That’s vigilantism.’
    You need to be mugged.

    Yes, some creep invades my home and to save my life or my family’s life, I stop the threat and then call 911. Or would you propose I call 911 while my child is getting beaten or worse. Surely, the police will be there within seconds!

    Move to NYC or London, you’ll fit right in, victim.

  48. PMD says:

    I have been mugged, but thanks for your concern. You seem like a swell guy.

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