During a Wisconsin radio network broadcast on Wednesday, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke announced his acceptance of a Homeland Security position. He said he had accepted a job as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security, triggering mixed reactions. Shortly after the announcement, there was an avalanche of response to the news of Clarke's appointment, with many reminders of the sordid, even deadly conditions under which he ran his prison as sheriff.
Between April and November 2016, four people died at the Milwaukee County Jail, which is overseen by Clarke. One of these people was a newborn baby, and another was 38-year-old Terrill Thomas, whose death by "profound dehydration" was ruled a homicide. A more detailed look into these deaths led Dr. Ronald Shanksy to the concerning discovery that there was a shortage of medical officers at the facility.
But instead of holding himself accountable for the lack of oversight in his prison, Clarke has spent a significant part of the past few years building his media persona. Clarke rose to a greater prominence shortly after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson; he was reelected as sheriff just three days after Brown's death, despite former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's concerted efforts to stop him.
Clarke's perspective was — and still is — that it is not worth examining the systemic inequalities that exist in policing and criminal injustice, and he has appeared on Fox News and other conservative outlets to discuss his support of Donald Trump and his belief that the Black Lives Matter movement is comparable to the Ku Klux Klan. Clarke has frequently referred to BLM as "Black Lies Matter," and has previously accused former President Barack Obama of having a "love affair with criminals."
Back in July, during the election cycle, Clarke made an appearance at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. At that time, he proudly declared that "Blue Lives Matter in America," and provoked cheers from the crowd when he announced that one of the police officers involved in Freddie Gray's death had been acquitted.
Now that he has accepted a position with much more oversight, critics are questioning whether Clarke will prioritize his job or the media spotlight. Clarke is a divisive political figure who routinely makes incendiary comments — shortly before the election, for example, he called for "pitchforks and torches" to combat the "rigged" political system in America.
One of the primary responsibilities of the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office is to maintain local jails, and Clarke's critics wonder whether he is fit for a position in the DHS when he spent a lot of time neglecting this key responsibility as sheriff. But as a conservative Wisconsin talk show host named Mark Belling pointed out to Business Insider, Clarke maintains a lot of popularity and credibility among conservatives, and it is likely that we will only see his notoriety grow in the next few months.