Exclusive & Uncensored Sheriff David Clarke
By Daniel Del Valle, John Welsh, and George Beck
Four time incumbent Sheriff David Clarke holds no punches when it comes to expressing his thoughts about attacks on law enforcement. Known for his outspokenness and “keep it real” attitude, he has gained national attention for his comments on Al Sharpton, the Ferguson riots and his accusation against President Obama and other political leaders
for fueling the tensions between police and the black community. Despite being vocal on controversial issues, Sheriff Clarke uses the platform of the media to get his message across, stand up for police and make a difference. In his “no sugar coating” interview with NJ Blue Now Magazine, Clarke talks about his national spotlight, the subculture of the black community and the future of law enforcement.
NJ Blue Now: Who is David Clarke?
David Clarke: What you see is what you get. I’m pretty straight forward. Most opinions about me are pretty black and white; they like me or they don’t. There is not a lot of in between with people. I am comfortable in my own skin. I’m not afraid to share my opinion, and if it’s been researched by me, I’ll provide the supporting documentation as to why I think I am right on a particular issue, but I approach most of the things I deal with from the standpoint that there are two schools of thought. I’m just one of those schools.
What do you like to do on your downtime?
I listen to a lot of talk radio. I read a lot. I’m an avid reader. I’m always commenting on some of the stuff that is said. It drives my wife nuts. My wife will attest to the fact that what you see in public is the way I always am.
What made you choose a career in law enforcement?
My dad was not in law enforcement. He was military. Every once in a while he would say to me do you ever think about going into law enforcement. Never really gave it any thought. Before I got into this law enforcement career, I was working for a beer distributor. I would drive a beer truck and make deliveries… Somewhere it was a defining moment when my dad brought it up again, and I thought I’d try this.
How has your life changed since all of this national media attention?
It’s extremely chaotic now. My time is really not mine own anymore. It’s tougher to manage. Being in the public light is a strange phenomenon. You belong to the public; you lose a lot of privacy. For my wife, I’m gone a lot—the last six or seven months. I’ve been the sheriff for 13 years now, going on my fourth term, but in the public life, even though this here elevated it to national, I was still a public figure in Milwaukee County. I was getting this public scrutiny to begin with and I’m used to it. The national level is a lot different. There are more people that come after you and want to talk to you. That dynamic is different than just focusing on the internal operations of the organization. It was Colin Powell who said to prepare the organization for the day you are not there—in this case now I’m gone a lot.
Does that hurt your department or has it made it better since now you are occupied with national attention?
Even as a public figure here I had an elevated status in Milwaukee County. Now it’s been raised a little bit higher, but I don’t think the people in the organization see that much of change. I was really detached as the sheriff here because I represent the public. Obviously, I am concerned about everybody in this organization, but I have to keep a clear line of distinction otherwise the public starts thinking they are not represented anymore.
Has there been overwhelming support in the organization?
I’m getting the love from cops all across the country. I think they have come around and see it as a positive.
Do you give the correctional officers the same attention as the street cops?
You’re damn right! I made it clear. I’m the one who brought in the corrections officers position. When I first came here we had all sworn sheriff deputies including those working in the jail. The reality was budgets were being cut and if they are starting to cut your budget you have to somehow do what you can to save that money. I started looking at the corrections officers’ position. The agreement I made was that I would backfill all retirements with corrections officers and start there. We didn’t lay anyone off…
Who do you admire in law enforcement?
Pretty simple to me. Bill Bratton. First of all I read his book early on. I first met him at a Governing Inc. conference in Austin, Texas, and I knew he was going to be a keynote speaker so I went. I wanted to meet this guy. I just went up there and start talking to him. I introduced myself; I was sheriff at the time, and he was with LAPD at the time. I was asking him a lot of questions, so I think he understood I was trying to learn from him… He gave me an autograph copy of his book Turn Around. He was just down to earth; this guy is the king.
How does Bratton fit right now with Mayor de Blasio?
I ran into Bratton in Washington, DC, when he started a consulting company. He seemed pretty happy. The pressure is off, he is making money and traveling. Then he gets back into the belly of the beast and I just asked myself why. He comes back under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Bill de Blasio has no use for police. Bill de Blasio is anti-police. Bill de Blasio ran on a campaign of ending stop, question and frisk and Bratton’s hands were tied. I went out to see him a couple of months ago and shadowed him a little bit. I didn’t want to say why did you come back or what you think about de Blasio. I didn’t want to put him in that position, but he is not having any fun. That’s my personal opinion, but I sense that he is not because de Blasio really tied his hands and Bratton knows what needs to be done. I don’t know why he got in— that’s his personal decision, but I think his legacy may end up being compromised.
Nationally, law enforcement is experiencing a lot of negative sentiments. In your opinion how did it get to this point and did you see this coming?
I only saw it coming in the post days of the Ferguson riots. This is a political movement. A lot of people have misdiagnosed this thing. This thing was seized upon by the occupying crowd as a rallying call to arms of the anarchist movement and they seized on this issue of race. If you look at the data, I think law enforcement officers use of deadly force may be 300 to 400 times a year; it varies but it’s consistent. They took a very local issue and tried to raise the national consciousness over this white cops shooting black males and it caught wind because the president of the United States and the attorney general of the United States gave it fuel—started talking that we need to have a national discussion. It’s a cycle now. You get your protesters and people calling for cops to be charged and fired. What’s different is the political class got in on it this time.
What would you say to the officers who may worry about scrutiny regarding their job performance?
Cops are not afraid to do their job. They are like if I stop this car and it turns into a deadly force situation I may be the next Darren Wilson. That’s not afraid to do the job; that’s a valid concern. Do I want to have my life and world turned upside down? Do I want to become a household name? Now my career is destroyed. I have a family and I’m sending my kids to college. I’m paying a mortgage and I may lose my career. That is a valid concern. We saw what life without police looks like in Baltimore. It ain’t very pretty. All these cops want to know is that somebody has their back, so when you get into these ugly situations you are justified in what you did. You want to know if that chief executive is going to fight for you.
What would you tell that chief or dept. head who is not supporting their men if you were face to face?
First of all they would have to resign. The reason is it is a part of your job to protect your people. With Darren Wilson, it was kind of known before all the facts were in he was probably in the right. The grand jury cleared him but he still lost his freaking job. Where is the fairness in that! What’s happening now in these cities is that the political class are making political decisions, and they are succumbing to the angry mobs out there. Certain demographics are not looking for justice; they are looking for revenge. We don’t have the backing of the political class. Someone has to have their backs. No one was doing it and I had the availability of a platform so I stood up—not to speak for every cop in America—but I speak for the profession.
How do you respond to the Sharptons of the black community who’ve claimed you’ve sold out?
I don’t pay attention to Sharpton and these race hustlers and race-demi gods. When I get a chance I will deliver some blows to them, metaphorically speaking. Sharpton is a loser. Sharpton is one of the most self-serving, self-indulged, self-interested human beings I have ever seen. I think he is despicable. First of all the guy is not even a reverend. He is a self-proclaimed reverend. I don’t know if you know anything about his reverend status. It’s fake; it’s phony. No man of the cloth would ever act like him. He is a disgrace to the divinity class. Race is an explosive issue in this country and he always likes to put a camera and microphone to his face to spew his vulgar rhetoric, his race-based rhetoric. He is a racist and he has turned it into a way to support himself, but he exploits other people’s misery like a leech. He latches on to these situations, and he uses these people who are grief-stricken at the time and he uses them to get anything he can out of the situation. He puts nothing back into it then he gets out of town. That’s the kind of person he is.
What advice would you give to another black leader who shares your beliefs but is concerned to speak up because of the potential pushback from members of their community?
Be not afraid; fear not. They got to get over that especially if they are in a position where they have a voice and a platform. I realize it’s hard. It’s not easy for me, but I don’t care. What are they going to do? If you are in position like me who embrace mainstream values like hard work, responsibility, reliability, and you are in the position where your voice can make a difference, shame on you if you don’t really exploit that for the overall good. You can’t think of yourself all the time. It is hard. There is no doubt about that. You have your friends to think about. You can be an outcast in your neighborhood but who cares.
Now that you have seen a lot of the national mainstream media, and you’ve been around a lot of the journalists has your impression changed a little bit of them?
No. Coming up as a lieutenant and detective, I was in charge of these crime scenes, and I had to give a media briefing. I always had an attitude anyway that you can’t trust them. When I say that I don’t mean with a broad stroke. I have some local ones here I trust, but overall you have to realize their role is different and if they have to, they are going to throw you overboard. I have found the more conservative news entities are a little more inviting. I don’t care if they don’t like me, but they have the platform that I need because I don’t have my own platform, so I have to use theirs. The liberal mainstream media isn’t as inviting because they don’t want my message. I’ll go anywhere in the media if they happen to invite me. If I want to get my message out to defend cops, I have to have a platform, so I thank them for that.
In the news there has been a lot of cop bashing. How would law enforcement let the world know that cops are hardworking, decent people who are being portrayed in a negative image?
That’s the thing about our profession. In the early days of this cop hating we didn’t have a voice to counter that message: we are racist, blood-thirsty. We didn’t have a counter narrative which is why I stepped up and tried to be that counter narrative. The liberal mainstream media really doesn’t want to hear the real side of us because they fan the flames of that Hands Up, Don’t Shoot cop bashing. They don’t have a problem painting us with a broad stroke. What I suggest to cops continuingly is screw all of them and do your job. Go out, serve the community, follow your training, policies and constitution and do what you know to be the right thing.
Do you think because you are a minority you are getting the national attention?
I have some leverage that other people don’t have. I realize I can say some things that others can’t. I can talk about sensitive issues that my counterparts who are not black can’t. I get that, but such is life. There is still ways of getting around these limitations, but don’t worry about the limitations. We all have strengths and if people aren’t stepping up because of whatever then shame on you.
You have criticized the president of the United States and the attorney general. Do you have any fear right now about your future?
No. I realized once I started taking on the attorney general and the president of the United States I was in the deep end of the pool. It is dangerous in the deep end of the pool. Again, I feel in my heart I am doing this for the right reason. I’m in a position to make a difference. I don’t want to leave this looking back saying, “I wish I would have…” when I had the chance to make a difference. All I want people to think about me when all this is said and done… I want people to know I was here.
You are the cops cop. Do you lose any sleep at night and are you concerned you may be a target?
It’s a possibility but I don’t think about it too much. I’m very cautious, but again, if you fear too much it’s debilitating. Maybe it wouldn’t allow me to be forthright with people and voice my opinion strongly on the American police officer; it might piss this person off. I got over that shit a long time ago. I used to be afraid of a lot of things in life. It came a point in time when I said to myself you are missing a lot of opportunities because you are afraid. I just learned to not let that stuff get in the way.
In law enforcement today what is something you feel could be improved?
We have to do a good job creating relationships with people. We have a tendency to keep the public at arm’s length. What I learned as an elected official is you have to get out and interact with people. You got to get out there, shake hands with people and introduce yourself. I tell people all the time, everyone you come in contact with and you have your uniform on, you have a chance to give an impression of the organization as a human being. Take as many opportunities as you can to let people see our human side.
Is there something wrong with some minority youth, particularly within some subcultures of the black community?
What we are dealing with today is a subculture—not the general black population—not by a long shot. It’s a subculture called the underclass. They live by different values than you and I live by. They live by different values than the average black person lives by. Kids out of wedlock are growing… They don’t raise their kids’ right. They are not engaged positively in their communities. They don’t stay consistently in the workforce. They are government dependent. So you have these generation of kids growing up as offspring of this underclass, growing up with no male role model to help them develop emotionally as well as physically. What I mean by that is installing values and virtues, making sure their kids are being educated and engaged in school. You have these young males growing up without fathers, at least 70 percent in single parent families. Fathers are responsible for the socialization of young boys and to teach them how to become young men. These kids are growing up with no values, and they are going to gravitate to something. That is why you need that male role model.
What would you say to single mothers who are raising their sons but not instilling values and virtues?
We have to have effective parenting. Another blown opportunity to raise young kids. We are all for the church but the church has been marginalized in our society. The church took care of a lot of these social skills appealing to the good nature of man. It’s a mess right now; it is a disaster. If I had the answer to that I would be giving lectures charging $100 thousand dollars a lecture. I think what we have to do is break it down into workable pieces and try to fix one thing at a time.
Do you believe our leadership in this country is turning a blind eye and not working on trying to solve this problem?
We have to get away from this notion that government can solve all these problems. Government is contributing through policies and funding things that are not working. We need more money for schools but the schools continue to not educate the kids. Well, what are you giving them more money for. We don’t have a lot of courage; we don’t have a lot of moral convictions for individuals in these positions. They are more worried about their own sustainment than they are of the people that they serve. A lot of these politicians are capitalizing on the dysfunction. These people aren’t about solving problems. They are about protecting their own existence—talking a big game but not backing it up.
We took a poll and the question keeps coming up if you will ever consider running for the president of the United States.
No. Never. (laughing) I know better. I’m flattered by that but that’s a thankless job.
Is there something else you would like to do beyond this position in the future?
Well, why do I have to look beyond? I take one day at a time. I live in the moment not for the moment.
The next time you run for office how is the support of your officers?
I try to leave the organization out of it because elections are tough for sheriff’s officers because it divides them—especially if you get someone in on the inside to run against the seating sheriff; it could really tear an organization apart. People take sides; it get ugly and then when it is over if the insider wins and knocks the incumbent out now you have incumbent’s support from part of the community and organization that is left with a bitter taste in their mouth and vice versa. I keep them for the most part away from me.
What’s your favorite baseball team?
What does your wife do that’s your pet peeve?
She is constantly changing the house around.
What is your strongest and weakest quality?
A belief in myself and I have a sharp tongue. I just say what I feel and don’t even worry about what people think about it. Sometimes you have to watch that.
Who do you think is going to be the next president?
It’s too early to tell.
What’s your favorite football team?
Who’s your favorite president and why?
George Washington. Can you imagine being in that position trying to pull this nation together? We almost didn’t have a nation over the constitution. You couldn’t get the constitution ratified today. It was tough back then. You had to bring them through the war taking on the greatest military force in the world—at the time Great Britain—take them on and had to bring the nation together. I got another one, Abraham Lincoln, following the civil war. Can you imagine the country almost coming apart at the seams and having to bring it back together?
Do you have a favorite TV show?
Do you have a favorite actor?
What’s your favorite curse word?
“Fuck. Because it’s very versatile. You can say ‘that was fucking great’ or ‘what the fuck did you do that for?’ It’s very versatile.