Thank God David A. Clarke Isn’t Running a County Jail Anymore

Former-Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke.
Former-Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Evidence that Americans can look to figures of authority for wisdom in dealing with the novel coronavirus is in short supply. The president can’t keep his facts straight. The vice president charged with coordinating the federal response mishandled an HIV outbreak as Indiana’s governor. The administration’s cheerleaders in positions of influence — pundits, elected officials past and present — maintain by and large that panic over the pandemic is a media conspiracy devised to tank markets and torpedo Trump’s re-election plans. In outright defiance of the lessons to be gleaned from hard-hit countries like Italy and Iran, some have encouraged people to ignore expert advice to stay home and avoid crowds.

All point to a concordant abdication of leadership that might be extraordinary were it not so consistent with a yearslong party-line effort to protect a president out of his depth. The precise motivations of each individual participant no doubt vary. But of those whose past behavior suggests a pattern of fanatical sycophancy toward the president, few are as reliably unhinged as David A. Clarke. The black DINO ex-sheriff of Milwaukee County resigned in 2017 after a 15-year career in office, much of it spent letting prisoners die horrible deaths in his jails. He’s perhaps best known for spreading conspiracy theories, inveighing against the supposed cultural defects of his fellow black people, casting civil rights protesters as ISIS-style terrorists — and, of course, serving as a hype man for Trump.

But it’s mostly been downhill from there. In the three years since he resigned, Clarke has been passed over for a rumored Trump administration gig, hired and then let go under unclear circumstances from a pro-Trump Super PAC, and effectively “banned” from appearing on Fox News because his “rhetoric became crazier and crazier and most shows refused to use him,” according to the Daily Beast. The latter in particular sheds light on the tweets he sent on Sunday, which Twitter made him delete because they violated its policy against encouraging self-harm. Below are some samples, sorted by topic.

On social distancing:

GO INTO THE STREETS FOLKS. Visit bars, restaurants, shopping malls, CHURCHES and demand that your schools re-open. NOW! If government doesn’t stop this foolishness…STAY IN THE STREETS. END GOVERNMENT CONTROL OVER OUR LIVES. IF NOT NOW, WHEN? THIS IS AN EXPLOITATION OF A CRISIS.

On caution:

I am TIRED of all this, “we have to err on the side of caution” BULL SH*T. WE HAVE TO GET BACK TO REASONABLENESS DAMMIT. It’s the DAMN FLU. Stop being afraid and start being SENSIBLE. WASH YOUR FUCK*ING HANDS! STOP BUYING TOILET PAPER. DO YOU FUC*ING HEAR ME????

On capitalism:

It is now evident that this is an orchestrated attempt to destroy CAPITALISM. First sports, then schools and finally commercial businesses . Time to RISE UP and push back. Bars and restaurants should defy the order. Let people decide if they want to go out.

On George Soros:

Not ONE media outlet has asked about George Soros’s involvement in this FLU panic. He is SOMEWHERE involved in this.

This man spent 15 years overseeing the detention and, by extension, health care of hundreds of thousands of inmates in his County Jail. It was an ignominious tenure. Were it not for the notoriously opaque nature of correctional facilities and the rarity with which their routine horrors see daylight, it would be remarkable that some of the jail’s more gruesome and widely reported scandals on Clarke’s watch only gained public attention in recent years. Terrill Thomas died of dehydration in a solitary confinement cell in 2016 after being denied water for seven days. A pregnant inmate’s baby died during childbirth in 2014 after jail staff denied its mother medication and vitamins and repeatedly canceled her doctor’s appointments. Other pregnant inmates were forced to undergo medical treatment and even give birth while wearing shackles. One inmate was handcuffed during labor for a full 21 hours.

These cases vivify the human costs of putting someone like Clarke in charge of other people’s well-being. It’s no shock that a person who insists on endangering American lives during a pandemic as a sort of nose-thumbing rebuke to “big government” would also oversee the draconian maltreatment of his prisoners. Fortunately, he’s no longer in a position to do the latter. But the dangers of similar alignments of ideology and legal power still abound elsewhere. Correctional facilities are uniquely imperiled by pandemics. Crowded and unhygienic jails and prisons that restrict movement (such as would permit regular hand-washing) and criminalize the possession of hand sanitizer are primed to suffer greatly should an outbreak of deadly illness occur.

Clarke’s declining influence in both public life and his private pursuits is a merciful development for anybody who might otherwise be in his charge today. It’s also a fitting turn for an ideologue whose platform was always at least partly reliant on the kind of official authority that his badge suggested but that his unhinged rants regularly threatened to undermine. Now he’s not a sheriff and remains out at Fox News. For the time being, he’s been reduced to howling deadly misinformation about pandemics into the Twitter wilderness. Anyone inclined to follow his advice would do well to review what happened the last time he was entrusted with the health of a vulnerable population. Death and suffering ruled the day. And apparently he’s yet to sate his appetite.

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Thank God David A. Clarke isn’t running a jail anymore