Just two days after Donald Trump's stunning upset victory on Election Day, the short lists of prospective Cabinet members for the new administration began turning up in the press. Amid familiar and predictable national GOP figures and business leaders, two men whose highest office to date were in county government stood out--both as prospects to head the Department of Homeland Security. One was the just-ousted former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, Joe Arpaio. The other was the still-sitting sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, David Clarke.
Whether or not he gets an appointment (unannounced as of press time), Clarkes star is rising.
In July, he delivered an endorsement address for Trump at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. By then, the African American sheriff was already a media sensation in national rightwing circles, where his fame has skyrocketed thanks to his repeated attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement. On Fox News and before Republican crowds, he can be counted on to discredit and marginalize the resurgent protests against police brutality and the deaths of black men and women at the hands of law enforcement officers.
"You see," he told the cheering throng in Cleveland, "Donald Trump understands that what can make our nation safe again is a recommitment to a system of justice in which no [one] ... can claim privilege above the law."
It's the sort of sound-bite approach to law enforcement Clarke has been cultivating at home in Wisconsin for more than a decade, championed by local conservative talk radio, before taking it national a few years ago. Interviewed frequently by Fox News and other conservative outlets, Clarke has dubbed himself "The Peoples Sheriff" and now hosts a regular talk radio podcast by that name on Glenn Beck's website The Blaze. (Other conservative cheerleaders have nicknamed him "America's Sheriff.")
Clarke's book, Cop Under Fire, is due out in March 2017 from a conservative Christian publishing house. In the book, Clarke calls for detaining American citizens suspected of terrorism indefinitely as "enemy combatants" and questioning them without a lawyer, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which examined a prepublication copy.
Obscured by his high profile is the fact that Clarke's actual law enforcement authority in Milwaukee County is limited to patrolling state highways, maintaining the county jail, and policing county parks. He does all of those with a pugnacious, go-it-alone style that has made him the odd man out in local law enforcement circles.
On the afternoon of August 13, a Saturday, a Milwaukee police officer shot and killed a twenty-three-year-old black man in a confrontation in the city's Sherman Park neighborhood. Hours later, the first of eight stores went up in flames, launching two nights of what some called an uprising, others a riot.
Through it all, most of Milwaukee's power structure maintained a measured response. Whereas police in Baton Rouge and elsewhere pushed back heavily against protest, Milwaukee cops kept their cool and limited arrests. The city's mayor imposed a citywide curfew for one week, but also met with community leaders. Follow-up news coverage...