David Clarke, who acts as the elected sheriff of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County in whatever spare time is left over from his cable TV and talk radio appearances, is demanding the suppression – and even the eradication – of the “vulgar, vile, vicious” people whose “anti-cop rhetoric” he blames for the murder of police officers in Texas and Illinois.
“This is part of a pattern now,” Sheriff Clarke declared during an August 31 CNN discussion of the hideous, execution-style murder of Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth by a man who had been institutionalized for mental illness. “You would have to stick your head in the sand to think that this thing here wasn’t fueled by this vile, vulgar, slimy movement.”
Clarke’s chief target is the “Black Lives Matter” movement, to which he assigns the responsibility for a nationwide outpouring of criticism over police misconduct.
“This slime needs to be eradicated from American society and American culture,” Clark insisted during an August 29 interview with Fox News host Jeanne Pirro. While professing to “love the First Amendment” and “freedom of speech,” Clarke maintained that the right is “not absolute.” You can’t saying you want in the United States. You cannot threaten people’s lives…. This is not First Amendment-protected.”
Under existing judicial precedents (chiefly the US Supreme Court’s 1969 ruling in Brandenburg v. Ohio) incendiary speech is protected by the First Amendment unless it displays an intent to bring about imminent, lawless action. By this standard, a small group of protesters chanting “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon” is engaging in a profoundly offensive exercise that is fully protected by the First Amendment.
Sheriff Clarke applies a different standard in which police officers are at “war” with a hostile public, and can view verbal hostility as a threat to “officer safety” warranting the use of potentially lethal force. This was made clear in yet another Fox News interview – this one with Meghan Kelly – discussing the arrest and subsequent death in detention of Chicago activist Sandra Bland.
Bland was stopped in Hempstead, Texas by State Trooper Brian Encinia on July 10 for allegedly failing to signal a turn. The already tense encounter deteriorated when Encinia ordered Bland to extinguish her cigarette. She was not legally forbidden to have a lit cigarette in her car, but police officers are often trained to see lit cigarettes, car fresheners, or even heavy colognes and perfumes as masking agents to cover up the smell of marijuana.
When Bland refused to put out the cigarette, Encinia (who had previously been warned about “unprofessional” behavior) escalated the encounter, ordering her from the car, bellowing the incantation “I am giving you a lawful order,” then pulling a Taser and threatening to “light you up.” Bland’s violent arrest led to a three-day incarceration in the Waller County Jail that ended with a death that has been described as a suicide, despite a number of documented irregularities and derelictions on the part of the guards.
Asked by Kelly if he considered Trooper Encinia’s actions to be appropriate, Clarke said that he “wholeheartedly” supported the officer. This encounter, he continued, was a “classic case of a citizen who did not comply with an officer’s lawful commands.”
Although she was armed only with a lit cigarette – an object some exceptionally inventive police apologists describe as a dangerous weapon – and her own sense of self-ownership, Clarke described Bland as “loaded for bear from the time she was pulled over.”
“I expect an officer to go into arrest mode” in dealing with a citizen in such circumstances, Clarke told Kelly. “And once you go into arrest mode, you get to move up on the force continuum – it’s no longer verbal commands, you can use intermediate weapons. He chose a Taser.”
While the violence employed by Trooper Encinia was entirely appropriate, Clarke opined, “I was more appalled with the language [Bland] was using with an authority figure…. She did some things that caused an officer to move up in terms of his response to keep her safe and to keep himself safe.” (Emphasis added.)
Disdainful language hurled at “an authority figure” is to be treated as a “threat,” from Sheriff Clarke’s perspective – and a violent assault with a potentially lethal weapon by an officer on an unarmed woman suspected of a trivial traffic violation is merely a responsible exercise of that “authority.”
The public record is barren of evidence that Sheriff Clarke has ever condemned a police officer for abusing his “authority.” After Harris County DA Devon Anderson, speaking in the aftermath of Deputy Goforth’s murder, conceded that there are some “bad apples” in law enforcement, Clarke found that concession unacceptable.
“I’m tired of qualifying these statements [by talking] about `bad apples’ within the law enforcement profession,” complained Clark on Fox News. Apparently the sheriff perceives law enforcement as an undifferentiated mass of heroic virtue – or at least he insists that the public should embrace that official fiction.
Sheriff Clarke has been warmly embraced by a segment of the population that looks upon all government agencies and officials – except for the police and the military – with incurable suspicion and no small amount of hostility. A telegenic black Democrat who opposes limits on personal firearms ownership, Clarke was named 2013 “Sheriff of the Year” by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a group that opposes federalization of law enforcement. In testimony earlier this year before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Clarke volubly criticized the Obama administration for seeking to federalize local police departments and sheriff’s agencies.
“We don’t have national policing in the United States for a number of reasons, one is civil liberties issues the other is that it’s a states’ rights issue,” Clarke stated during an interview with Stuart Varney of Fox News. That comment was intended as a criticism of Al Sharpton’s call for increased oversight of local law enforcement agencies.
“I find it interesting that he has so much faith in the federal government when in the 1960s the FBI surveilled Dr. Martin Luther King during the civil rights movement and then went on a smear campaign to discredit him,” Clarke commented in the Varney interview. “Now all of a sudden he trusts the federal government.”
As it happens, Sharpton has a long history of collaborating with the FBI as a confidential informant. Despite his populist anti-Federal rhetoric, Sheriff Clarke himself has been cultivated by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
Clarke’s official bio boasts that he is a graduate of the FBI’s National Academy and National Executive Institute at Quantico, Virginia. Created in 1975 by then-FBI Director Clarence Kelly, the National Executive Institute recruits participants from among major city police chiefs, police commissioners, and county sheriffs. Its program is designed to cultivate a sense of solidarity within a national brotherhood of FBI-trained law enforcement officials. Its seal displays the Latin motto, “non sibi, sed patriae” – “not for one’s self, but for one’s country.” While this might be considered a noble sentiment, it isn’t necessary one that is compatible with the idea of local accountability.
As an officer with the Milwaukee Police Department during the 1990s, Clarke worked as the department’s “liaison with the United States Attorney’s Office as coordinator of the CEASEFIRE violent crime reduction program.” Advertised as a national anti-gun violence initiative, CEASEFIRE was one of the Clinton administration’s most ambitious efforts to federalize law enforcement.
During the Clinton era, Officer Clarke was something of an anti-gun warrior. In more recent years, he has become an acolyte of the Homeland Security State. Two years ago, the sheriff was awarded a Master’s Degree in “Security Studies” by the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, California. That program is co-sponsored by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security’s National Preparedness Directorate.
While much of the course work for that degree was done through distance learning, Clarke was required to be on campus for two weeks each quarter – a total of twelve weeks, or three months, over the 18-month program. His initial reaction to the disclosure of his involvement in the Homeland Security program was secretive and defensive. In defiance of Wisconsin state law, Clarke refused open records requests from Milwaukee television reporter Colleen Henry concerning his involvement in the program . He eventually agreed to speak with her – but only if he could have five minutes of unedited air time.
Given that Sheriff Clarke sees criticism of the police as a species of criminal offense, it shouldn’t be surprising that he thinks the media should take dictation from him. His master’s thesis, “Making U.S. Security and Privacy Rights Compatible,” recommends that the media play a role in “educating” the public about the supposed need to continue the federal government’s omnivorous electronic eavesdropping program.
The NSA “now collects 1.7 billion pieces of intercepted communications every twenty-four hours that [sic] includes cell phone conversations, e-mails, text and Twitter messages, instant messages, billboard [sic] postings, radio signals [sic] IP addresses and website changes,” wrote Sheriff Clarke. Were his devotion to the Constitution and Bill of Rights something other than sterile posturing, Clarke would have denounced this as a legal and moral atrocity. From his perspective, however, the problem is not the federal government’s incontinent data trawling, but rather the public opposition it has provoked.
“The danger is that these agencies may have to begin to protect the country from terror with one hand tied behind their back like they did prior to 9/11 if they continue to resist calls for more transparency and civil liberty protections,” Clarke frets. Rather than abolishing or reducing the scope of the NSA-centered surveillance operation, the sheriff urges an expanded effort to “educate” the public about the benevolent designs and heroic efforts of those who operate the panopticon, in addition to a few anodyne “reforms,” such as expanded congressional oversight and a more “adversarial” process in the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court.
In all of this, the public’s role would be to support whatever our overseers do for our “protection,” and submit to whatever demands they make of us. Theirs is the privilege to command, ours is the duty to obey – and those who provoke public disapproval of the enforcement caste run the risk of being targeted as “slime” suitable only for “eradication.”