Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has gained national notoriety for his inflammatory remarks on Fox News and social media, such as when he called a black CNN commentator a “jigaboo” and repeatedly claimed that Black Lives Matter is a “hate group” and a “terror organization.” Most recently, he’s also drawn scrutiny for his mishandling of the county jail he oversees, where three people and a newborn baby died last year between April and December.
Now Clarke is set, he said, to accept a role in President Donald Trump’s Department of Homeland Security.
Clarke, a registered Democrat but vocal supporter of Trump, told conservative radio host Vicki McKenna that he will act as an assistant secretary, working in the Office of Partnership and Engagement as a liaison with local police and governments. This would put him at the center of guiding and advising policy for some of Trump’s top priorities, particularly efforts to coerce police into cracking down on unauthorized immigration and ramp up programs that encourage racial profiling.
The appointment still needs to be confirmed by administration officials, who in an email said they have no announcement at the time. Nonetheless, Clarke has long been a confidant of Trump — previously speaking at the Republican National Convention in 2016.
If Clarke’s appointment is legit, it will be the latest of many examples of the Trump administration staffing up with yet another “tough on crime” figure. But Clarke is a particularly inflammatory example, with a history of comparing people he disagrees with to terrorists and allegedly allowing some horrific abuses, including deaths, during his time as Milwaukee County sheriff.
Clarke is known for inflammatory comments and deaths in his jail
Clarke is perhaps best known for his prolific social media feed and appearances on Fox News, where he regularly blasts liberals, critics of Trump, and — especially — the Black Lives Matter movement’s attempts to draw attention to the vast racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
For example, Clarke previously said that Black Lives Matter does not “care about black lives. They care about their own radical ideology of terrorism: anarchy.” He also argued that Black Lives Matter has encouraged attacks on police (it never has), and that it’s an “insidious terror organization.”
Although Clarke is himself black, he has also used racial slurs against black pundits who he disagrees with, once calling CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill a “jigaboo.” And he reportedly said on a conservative podcast, “Let me tell you why blacks sell drugs and involve themselves in criminal behavior instead of a more socially acceptable lifestyle — because they’re uneducated, they’re lazy, and they’re morally bankrupt.”
I am tired of this jigaboo telling black people who they should be, what they should do. He's a lackey for Democrats https://t.co/XRI5bEPo0F— David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) January 17, 2017
As a sheriff, Clarke has allowed some pretty horrific abuses to happen under his watch, including deaths at the jail he’s supposed to manage. In a particularly egregious case, jailers allowed a man with mental health problems to die of dehydration after allegedly cutting off the inmate’s water for a week.
Clarke, for his part, doesn’t seem to take his role as a jail supervisor too seriously. After facing questions over the deaths of three inmates and a baby at the jail between April and December of last year, Clarke essentially blamed the inmates for the deaths in an interview with the Wisconsin Watchdog:
Clarke said what the Journal Sentinel’s “hit job” missed is the fact that jail populations are filled with sick people who have made a lot of bad decisions that have compromised their health.
“Two inmates suffered from … cardiac disease, which became critical when coupled with the effects of hardcore drug usage prior to their incarceration, with their extensive drug histories independently noted in their death investigations,” he said.
Clarke also blamed the medical staff, which the county privately contracts with, and maybe the county executive — basically, everyone but him. “If there is a shortcoming here, people have to direct these questions at the medical staff,” he told Watchdog. “That [private] contract is run out of the House of Correction, and they report to the county executive.” (Never mind that, as Clarke admitted to Watchdog, he supported the privatization of the jail’s health care services and sought the contract. And it’s his staff who oversaw these people — including a baby — when they died.)
Clarke added that there’s no pattern or connection in the deaths. But as Nick Wing explained at HuffPost, the number of deaths is highly unusual: “Based on an analysis of The Huffington Post’s jail death database, other jails that have four deaths in a year are several times the size of Clarke’s downtown jail site, which has a capacity of 960. Even if no additional inmates die at Clarke’s jail this year, the facility’s death rate will be roughly three times the national average, according to 2013 figures.”
Most recently, Andrew Kaczynski, Christopher Massie and Nathan McDermott at CNN also found evidence that Clarke plagiarized — or at least poorly attributed — parts of his 2013 master’s thesis on national security.
In terms of policy, Clarke is a run-of-the-mill “tough on crime” politician. He often defends mass incarceration, arguing that reducing prison sentences for low-level drug offenders is “cuddling up to criminals.” He has defended policing tactics like stop and frisk, which was deemed unconstitutional in New York City because it was deployed in a way that targeted minorities. He also talks tough about unauthorized immigration, regularly tweeting stories of crimes that allegedly involve undocumented immigrants and calling for a crackdown on them.
In this way, Clarke will by and large fit well within the Trump administration: He is merely echoing many of the same rhetoric and policies that Trump supports.
This is Trump’s “tough on crime” views in action
On the campaign trail, Trump advocated for raising mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses as a response to the opioid epidemic, praising Vice President Mike Pence for doing so as governor of Indiana. He criticized the Obama administration for pushing for reforms to help end mass incarceration. He said that police should be far more aggressive than they are today.
After Trump was elected, he warned that he might “send in the feds” to deal with crime in Chicago. Time and again, he lied about the US murder rate, suggesting that it’s at a 45-year high to make the case for his “tough on crime” policies — when the murder rate is nearly half of what it was at its peak in 1991.
Other officials within the administration have echoed Trump. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for one, has empowered law enforcement across the US to act more aggressively. He’s backed off of federal investigations into local police, removing a tool for oversight that the Obama administration used to uncover abuses and outright racist practices at police departments across the country. He also recently told federal prosecutors that they “should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” against even low-level drug offenders, rescinding a guidance from the Obama era that told prosecutors to lay off charges that can trigger lengthy prison sentences.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been moving forward with policies that in effect unleash federal law enforcement and encourage local police to crack down on unauthorized immigrants. My colleague Dara Lind explained:
Under President Trump, the risk of deportation isn’t evenly distributed. Some immigrants are more likely to get apprehended and deported than others. But across the board, the risk of deportation is elevated: Few if any unauthorized immigrants (or even, to a certain extent, legal-immigrant noncitizens) are affirmatively 100 percent safe.
No one has ever announced this. Instead, immigrant communities, the institutions that support them, and the media that reports on them have all found ourselves playing detective: finding out about one high-profile case at a time, drawing our own conclusions, and trying to modify behavior accordingly.
These are the kinds of policies for which Clarke, as an assistant secretary at DHS, would play a key role. Based on his past, he’ll fit right in with Trump’s crew — a very alarming sign for advocates who want more progressive criminal justice and immigration policies.