Is Sheriff Clarke the Black Trump?
And a possible running mate? Atlantic Mag charts the rising star of Milwaukee’s sheriff.
Sheriff David Clarke couldn’t even finish second in the 2004 race for Milwaukee’s mayor, but nationally he is a rising star that some suggest would make a great running mate for Donald Trump. We learn that in a long feature story in The Atlantic magazine, “American Sheriff,” that leaves no doubt of Clarke’s national importance.
As the story notes, Clarke “has become a fixture of conservative media. Glenn Beck presents the sheriff’s podcast on his multimedia juggernaut, The Blaze, and he is a frequent guest on Fox News. Clarke is also popular on Twitter, where he recently tweeted to his 127,000 followers that the young activists of the Black Lives Matter movement—he calls it “Black Lies Matter”—will eventually ‘join forces with ISIS.’ He made sure to note, ‘You heard it first here.’”
Of course, the idea of Black Lives Matter joining ISIS is complete nonsense, but it’s the sort of outrageous quote that draws viewers and readers, and so Clarke gets play on venues like Fox. But the fact that the august Atlantic is now paying attention is a sign, it seems, that Clarke’s views are now seen as having intellectual weight. Next there’ll be Ph.d dissertations on Clarke’s theory of county executive penis envy.
For those Milwaukeeans who thought Clarke was just a loud demagogue with a horse and a cowboy hat, the Atlantic has news for you: the sheriff is emblematic of many significant trends in America. Thus we get the classic, balanced story that provides the pros and cons of Sheriff Clarke, but never lets you imagine he is not a theoretician of national importance.
Clarke declined an interview with writer Maurice Chammah, but the writer does a good job of filling in the story, borrowing from a 2003 Milwaukee Magazine feature by Kurt Chandler to tell us about Clarke’s childhood: “When he was 12, the Clarkes moved to a neighborhood where they were one of two African American families…Clarke says he weathered racial epithets. He attended a mostly white, all-male Catholic high school…His two-parent household—which ‘unfortunately in the black community is no longer the norm, and it’s had devastating effects’—gave him respect for authority and personal responsibility.”
“At 21,” Chammah goes on, “Clarke joined the city’s police force and spent two decades rising from patrol officer to homicide detective to commander. Eventually, he headed the division that ran security for visiting politicians, among them then-Governor Scott McCallum. In 2002, the county sheriff resigned and McCallum appointed Clarke to the post.”
Clarke has won reelection to that position four times, always running as a Democrat, though he adamantly disagrees with the party’s philosophy and is a supporter of leading Republicans. It’s the sort of thing that might lead one to question the sincerity of his views.
No one in Milwaukee would be stunned by this; that’s how Clarke operates, aided and abetted by talk radio and Fox TV.
As Chammah writes: “Several of Nolan’s Right on Crime associates declined to speak on the record about Clarke: ‘They probably don’t want to anger someone who is on Fox News all the time.’”
Locally, you find the same dynamic, as Chammah finds: “Numerous other county leaders contacted for this story declined to comment on Clarke. ‘People are fearful of retribution from him,’ says one political operative… ‘Conservative talk radio in Milwaukee is huge … It’s a nonstop drumbeat all day of whatever the talking points are, and Sheriff Clarke shapes those.’”
To balance this, Chammah describes Clarke guest-hosting The Sean Hannity Show and talking with presidential candidate Ted Cruz about “the vilification of police officers. Together, they argued that increasing rates of homicides and gun crimes in Baltimore were the result of a Department of Justice investigation into the death of Freddie Gray, who died in police custody, prompting protests—another case of cowed police and emboldened criminals.” One wonders, however, how many outrageous or exaggerated comments were expressed by Clarke on the show.
Chammah also writes that many black leaders believe young activists should express equal outrage at the high levels of black-on-black murder, instead of only when an “outsider” is the perpetrator. He quotes Jermaine Reed, who hosts a radio show on WNOV and directs a Milwaukee nonprofit, Fresh Start Family Services, who says, “Like Sheriff Clarke, I’d like to see the same level of protest and outrage when the violence is within our own community.”
A legitimate point. But how seriously can we take Clarke’s stance when he compares Black Lives Matter to ISIS?
Chammah notes how Clarke’s radio ads telling citizens to “fight back” against violent criminals “vaulted Clarke to national attention, as his 2014 reelection briefly became a symbol of the U.S. gun debate. The National Rifle Association asked its members to donate to Clarke’s campaign, while gun-control advocate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $150,000 to support Clarke’s challenger. Clarke won, and he began appearing on Fox News…”
All true, but Chammah amazingly leaves out the most controversial part of the ad, where Clarke says “With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option.” The idea of replacing vigilante actions with law enforcement was condemned by local law enforcement authorities, but that goes unmentioned as well.
Nor does Chammah note how little Clarke has to do with policing here. He describes Clarke as a man who “fights crime in Milwaukee,” but is apparently unaware the Sheriff’s Department Clarke runs handles well less than one percent of all crime in the county.
Chammah adds timeliness, noting that Clarke is a big fan of Donald Trump. “He gets us. He understands us,” Clarke has said.
“Many of his supporters have suggested Trump should consider him for various appointments or even as a running mate,” Chammah writes.
“Clarke ‘talks like Donald Trump,’ says Percy Pitzer, a former prison warden who now runs a nonprofit [the Creative Corrections Education Foundation in Milwaukee] that works with the children of those behind bars. ‘He says what’s on his mind, and it makes sense to people.’ Numerous Milwaukeeans interviewed for this story echoed the Trump comparison.”
Which makes perfect sense. Trump makes outrageously toxic statements that win him media coverage and has been widely condemned as a demagogue. That apparently is what now passes for serious thinking in some parts of the nation. In that sense, The Atlantic is spot on: David Clarke’s time has come.