Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sheriff Clarke, Terrill Thomas & Authoritarian Creep

Milwaukee Sheriff David A. Clarke
Oxford defines authoritarian as: (adjective) 1. Favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority. 2. Tyrannical or domineering.

So let's hope that the troubling rumor reported by Politico last Friday, that the controversial Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke will soon be tapped for a position at the Department of Homeland Security, turns out not to be true.

If it does turn out to be true, then this nation will have stepped dangerously closer to the precipice of a dark authoritarian vision for this nation.

The really scary hyper-conservative version of America envisioned by Donald Trump, his attorney general Jeff Sessions and the cabal of right-wing extremist bigots like Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller and Michael Anton that now infect the White House like a dangerous ideological virus.  

Like a lot of Americans who are somewhat familiar with David Clarke's words and actions, I don't have anything against him personally, but my sense is that members of law enforcement must keep their personal politics and ideology separate from their duty to enforce the laws they are sworn to protect and uphold.

In the same vein as the recently fired Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, Clarke views his position as sheriff as a platform to spread his own personal right-wing ideology; he's a regular guest on Fox News, at National Rifle Association conventions and on various right-wing radio programs.

And frankly speaking, this guy is totally off his rocker - and I'm not even talking about his penchant for dressing up like a cowboy.

Terrill Thomas at his son's HS graduation
Clarke, his department and employees of the Milwaukee County Jail are currently under fire for the April 24, 2016 death of 38-year-old Terrill Thomas.

As the New York Times reported, last week the Milwaukee County DA's office was conducting an inquest into Thomas' death after he died of dehydration after corrections officers turned off the water to his cell.

Testimony by investigators, inmates and corrections personnel will determine if criminal charges will be filed.

Inmates claim that Thomas, who suffered from bipolar disorder, could be heard begging for water and records show that he went without water for at least seven days before he died of dehydration.

That's torture folks, plain and simple.

He was brought there after being arrested for a shooting inside a casino, and initially ripped up a mattress to try and flood his own cell by clogging the toilet.

Because he was having a bipolar episode when corrections officers later placed him in a solitary confinement cell with no mattress, blanket or pillow, according to the New York Times, Erik Heipt, a lawyer retained by Thomas' family, Thomas "was not operating in a world of reality."

Once in solitary confinement, he had no access to medication to help him think and speak clearly, so he had no ability to ask for help, as Heipt told the Times, "They treated his mental illness as a behavioral problem and disciplined him."

According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article published last Thursday by Jacob Carpenter and Dave Umhoefer, a corrections lieutenant named Kashka Meadors testified under oath that she ordered the water to Thomas' cell shut off after he'd flooded a previous cell.

She claimed it was only supposed to be a temporary measure, but the water remained off for seven days and remarkably, no corrections personnel entered the cell to provide him with water to drink.

As the Times reported, Thomas was given a disgusting "food product" mashup that comes in the form of an unappetizing block called "Nutraloaf" which is given to some prisoners in America and Canada as punishment, watch people try to eat it.

But Thomas refused to eat it, and was given no water with the Nutraloaf and he subsequently lost at least 30 pounds - last week the medical examiner who ruled his death a homicide testified that Thomas lost 10% of his body weight while in custody.

But still the water in his cell was not turned on.

Corrections Lt. Kashka Meadors
Meadors testified that:

"I was under the impression that it was taken care of, and as well, I briefed my supervisor."

As the Journal Sentinel article reports, last week's testimony by corrections officers reveals what looks increasingly like a coverup.

For example, while footage of the incident was captured on videotape, and a captain and at least one other officer viewed it, corrections personnel apparently failed to properly download the tape.

So the section showing the incident is now gone.

Terrill Thomas was responsible for shooting a weapon in a public place, and by all rights should have faced charges for that in a court of law, but his reprehensible treatment at the hands of corrections officers is reflective of the kind of open contempt that David Clarke has for inmates in general.

As the Huffington Post reported last November, "At least four people, including a newborn baby, have died at the Milwaukee County Jail since April. (2016)"

The idea of Clarke going to Washington, D.C. to serve DHS's Office of Partnership and Engagement as an assistant secretary acting as the liaison between Trump administration and local law enforcement around the U.S. at a time when relations between many local communities and police is so fragile, is preposterous and scary.

He's been a frequent critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, calling them "sub-human creeps" and spreading bogus rumors that the group is aligned with ISIS.

Clarke called President Obama a "Marxist" on Twitter, even though he himself travelled to Russia on a trip partially paid for by a Russia-linked group called 'The Right to Bear Arms' with a delegation from the NRA to meet with Dimitry Rogozin, a deputy foreign minister under sanction by the U.S. government.

He publicly called former attorney general Eric holder an "asshole", and during an appearance on nut-bag conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' radio show he warned of a "second American Revolution" while fanning the flames of loony right-wing theories about the Obama administration wanting to take away people's guns.

Cowboy fetish? Clarke riding in a parade in 2103
Clarke has been in a longstanding feud with county executives over budget issues, and his overly confrontational approach to dealing with his enemies probably appeals to Trump.

Back in 2013, after  Clarke got upset over proposed budget cuts to the sheriff's department, as NPR reported, he aired PSA radio spots calling for local residents to arm themselves and warned that calling 911 was no longer a safe option.

Among other things he told members of the Milwaukee community:

"Once the wolf is at the door, once the intruder is inside your home, once you're on the street and someone sticks a gun in your face to take your car or your wallet, you don't have the option of calling 911."

A member of law enforcement who urges citizens not to call 911 to report emergencies has absolutely no business working in the federal government in a capacity where he would be advising local law enforcement on policy, training or tactics.

This is America, and Clarke has the right to say and think whatever he wants, but it's wrong for him to use his position as a civil servant to do it.

From my perspective, I find his willingness to be used as a complacent lackey by conservative right-wing media to legitimize quasi-racist beliefs in order to placate his massive ego to be somewhat pathetic.

As Gwen Moore, the Congresswoman who represents Sheriff Clarke's district observed back in 2015 in an op-ed on Urban Milwaukee, right-wing media outlets like Fox News use Clarke in part because they need "a black sheriff to give voice to the dog-whistle narratives its anchors dare not vocalize themselves."

If the Trump administration is looking to put this man into the Department of Homeland Security as an assistant secretary in the Office of Partnership and Engagement, you can be sure the bigots who advise Trump on domestic policy are eager to use him in the same capacity.

After all, the only black folks an American racist likes are those willing to lend a cloak of legitimacy to divisive theories based on ignorance that demean and dehumanize people of color.

With his overly-authoritarian approach to law enforcement, Sheriff David A. Clarke has demonstrated an ability and willingness to do just that.

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