By Madison Park and Ray Sanchez
May 18, 2017
(CNN) Unapologetic and blunt, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has won legions of supporters on the right with his frequent commentary that slams Black Lives Matter and other liberal groups.
As violence roiled Milwaukee in August, Clarke took to Twitter chiding the left and black activists, whom he derided as “Black Lies Matter.”
Now the controversial lawman is back in the news, telling WISN radio he has accepted a position in the Trump administration as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security.
The department, however, won’t say if the sheriff was offered a job.
Clarke’s appointment, real or imagined, has drawn criticism.
“Sheriff David Clarke’s unconscionable record makes him unfit to serve,” Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, tweeted. “This appointment is a disgrace.”
CNN contributor Margaret Hoover, a former adviser to the department, said: “I actually worked in the Department of Homeland Security with people who took the job and the post incredibly seriously, and this … man also argued for suspending habeas corpus on his radio show, he is representative of a kind of government that believes in reality TV and in entertaining and not the responsibility of governing. This is concerning.”
Clarke, who’s African-American, raised his national profile with a speech at the Republican National Convention in July and his vigorous defense of law enforcement. He’s not a registered Republican, but the sheriff is no fan of Democrats, often blaming them for creating “misery-inducing, divisive, exploitative and racist” urban policies.
His outspokenness on such issues has won him fans such as Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Political Action Conference as well as critics such as rapper Talib Kweli.
Clarke became a familiar face in the months leading up to the election as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.
Since the inauguration, the sheriff has drawn protests in Milwaukee for taking steps to allow corrections officers to conduct immigration enforcement in his jails.
‘A collapse of the social order’
Protesters have demanded Wisconsin’s governor remove the tough-talking firebrand for wanting to use his deputies and correction officers to enforce federal immigration laws.
Among other concerns, organizers of a march in Milwaukee were critical of Clarke’s desire to join the Department of Homeland Security’s 287(g) program, which essentially deputizes local law enforcement agencies to operate as federal immigration agents.
Clarke’s management of the Milwaukee County Jail has also come into question. Local prosecutors say inmate Terrill Thomas, 38, didn’t have access to water for a week and died of dehydration in his cell in April 2016. Three other people, including a newborn baby, have died in the Milwaukee County Jail since last April. The deaths are under investigation.
Clarke hasn’t been shy either with his views on turmoil in Milwaukee after last summer’s police shooting of an armed black man named Sylville Smith. He called protests that turned violent “black cultural dysfunction.”
In an opinion piece the sheriff wrote for The Hill, he likened the chaos in Milwaukee as “tribal behavior.”
“What happened … had little to do with police use of force — it was a collapse of the social order where tribal behavior leads to reacting to circumstances instead of waiting for facts to emerge,” Clarke wrote.
“The law of the jungle replaced the rule of law in Milwaukee … over an armed career criminal suspect who confronted police.”
He described the urban, black poor as victims.
“The actions were the manifestation of a population with no hope, no stake in the American dream that could provide advancement and purpose and pride of self. They are the ones lied to, exploited by and ultimately manipulated by the Democrats who claim to care. They are victims of the left, but they are not without blame.”
‘Anti-police rhetoric sweeping the country’
Since 2002, Clarke has been the sheriff of Milwaukee County. Now in his fourth term, he has won each election by a wide margin of victory. The suburbs, where he serves, is more heavily white than the city of Milwaukee, which has its own police force. He lost a bid to become Milwaukee mayor in 2004.
He is up for re-election in 2018.
Clarke had a heated interview in July with CNN’s Don Lemon over the police shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that killed three law enforcement officers and wounded three others.
He told Lemon he had predicted that police officers would be targeted.
“This anti-police rhetoric sweeping the country has turned out some hateful things inside of people that are now playing themselves out on the American police officer,” he said.
Clarke has frequently blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for inspiring violent crimes against law enforcement officers, calling the group “purveyors of hate.”
CNN’s Darran Simon, David Shortell and Leinz Vales contributed to this report.
Sheriff and Don Lemon get heated over police shootings
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