State & Local Politics

Sheriff David Clarke jumps the shark

While I was away in Minneapolis over the weekend, my local sheriff, David Clarke of Milwaukee County, Wis., did his best to remind everyone that he’s still dedicating his time to being an embarrassment.

It’s been a little while since Clark left a mess on the rug in the nation’s living room. When last the rest of y’all saw him, he spoke at the Republican National Convention back in July, where he announced to cheering crowds that the U.S. was in a state of civil war; that police officers like him were the front line soldiers in that war, and that members of the Black Lives Matter movement were the enemy. All of which is a piping hot cup of dumpster juice.

Since then, Clarke has continued to vilify the BLM, taken multiple swipes at Colin Kaepernick and the expanding peaceful protests within the NFL speaking out against police brutality, and has charmingly taken to repeatedly referring to the first female presidential candidate on a major party ticket as “Mrs. Bill Clinton.”

Yeah, he’s just that classy.

However, the current pile on Sheriff Clarke has brought upon himself stems from a tweet he sent out on Saturday calling for his supporters to take up their torches and pitchforks to fight our “corrupt” government and media. Yes, you read that right — the top law enforcement officer of a major metropolitan area, who has been openly critical of a civil rights movement dedicated to peaceful demonstrations, and is virulently opposed to the act of not standing up among those with whom he disagrees — thinks it’s time for his supporters to turn to violent insurrection against their duly-elected democratic government.

If that seems just a tad hypocritical, trust me, you haven’t even started getting angry yet. 

Because while Sheriff Clarke’s Twitter shenanigans has placed him national time out, something far more serious came to light last month. Back in April, an inmate in the Milwaukee County Jail, run by the Sheriff’s Department, was found dead in his cell.

But Terrill Thomas hadn’t committed suicide, he was not killed in an altercation with another inmate, nor did he die from an undiagnosed health condition. No, Mr. Thomas was tortured to death by the people charged with ensuring his safety. In mid-September, the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office released a report that ruled Thomas’s death a homicide caused by extreme dehydration. For six days, Mr. Thomas was denied water by uncaring guards. For six days, he begged for water before finally succumbing. Other inmates pleaded with guards to give him something to drink, but were ignored and rebuffed.

Thomas wasn’t a sympathetic figure. He was in jail for shooting a man in the chest and firing two more shots at a local casino. He was far from a model citizen.

However, that is no excuse for the sort of reckless incompetence and disregard for human life displayed by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department under the leadership of Sheriff Clarke. Nor was Mr. Thomas’s case unique. Indeed, he wasn’t even the only inmate to die of dehydration while in custody. Between 2008 and 2012, an investigative report unearthed ten different inmates who died under mysterious circumstances while being held in one of Sheriff Clarke’s jails. Ten times public servants under Sheriff Clarke’s supervision doled out the equivalent of the death penalty for crimes as minor as traffic violations, in the very first state to permanently outlaw capital punishment more than a century and a half ago.

Clark likes to present himself as an American hero, standing bravely astride the thin blue line that separates law-abiding citizens from the ravages of lawless barbarians. But the reality is quite different. He is a demagogue, a provocateur, and an incompetent manager who prioritizes media appearances in front of friendly cameras above actually doing his damned job.

He is a danger to the very lives of those inmates he is charged with caring for. It’s time for Clarke to find a new profession more befitting his temperament and demonstrated competence. Maybe as a performer in a Village People cover band. He’s got a built-in advantage of already having costumes for both the policeman and the cowboy.

Tomlinson is an author and comedian. Follow him @stealthygeek.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.





Tags Bill Clinton Crime Law enforcement Milwaukee police reform Politics Sheriff David Clarke

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