Jamaal E. Smith, a community activist and chair of the education committee at the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP, takes exception to Sheriff David Clarke’s recent statements about police brutality.
“There is no more police brutality in America. We ended that in the 60s,”
—Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke
I would like to know exactly what planet Sheriff David Clarke lives on for him to make such an absurd comment. To deny the very existence of a reality that communities of color deal with is to imply all actions of the police are positive, which we know is not true. Make no mistake, the crime and violence that have plagued our communities is problematic, but that does not excuse the actions of some police officers who use their authority for the wrong reasons. For Clarke to use a public forum to reject the existence of police brutality is disconcerting and discounts the experiences of those who have fallen victim to it.
Adding insult to injury, Clarke referred to the anti-police brutality protestors in New York City as “subhuman creeps” and said that law-abiding citizens should oppose the protestors for interrupting their lives and businesses, and call the cops to come in arrest them. Really?? Clarke always mentions “constitutional rights and civil liberties,” yet when protestors exercise those rights, he labels them as “creeps.” That behavior is not appropriate for a high-ranking official who swore to protect and serve all citizens.
Coincidentally, less than a week after Clarke’s tirade, a 16-year-old African American girl was assaulted by Student Resource Officer Ben Fields at a high school in South Carolina. People have expressed many opinions on the circumstances surrounding the incident, but what should be quite clear is that Officer Fields used excessive force. There is no reason why he should have taken this type of action against the student. The fact that this officer had the reputation of using unnecessary force (his nickname was “Officer Slam”) further supports that police brutality is a problem.
In 2009 and 2011, the city of Milwaukee was ranked #2 in the nation for police brutality by the United States government. In November 2012, the Journal/Sentinel reported that excessive force and racial profiling cost taxpayers over $14 million over the previous 10 years. The NAACP Milwaukee Branch created a petition earlier this year requesting an investigation into the practices of the Milwaukee Police Department based on police brutality. Republican legislators recently proposed a bill (SB 248), which would have allowed any police officer to conduct strip searches on any person arrested or detained for any reason.
This activity is happening right in Clarke’s back yard, yet he wants people to believe there is no police brutality.
Clarke also has claimed that officers no longer operate with “racial intent.” Well, Sheriff Clarke, maybe you should re-visit the racially charged emails and text messages sent by police in Miami Beach, San Francisco and Ferguson, Mo., the city where 18- year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson.
Let me be clear: there are many great law enforcement officers who are truly concerned about our communities. However, don’t suggest that police brutality is a figment of our imaginations, because, unfortunately, it is real.
I’m just wondering what is motivating Clarke’s statements. What makes him believe they are true? Clarke’s remarks are one reason there is such massive tension between law enforcement and communities of color, most notably African American communities, nationwide. At this juncture, a resolution seems to be nowhere in sight.