The Sheriff Who Dared To Ask For Help

posted on April 8, 2015
Alyssa Shukar

Sometimes someone steps onto the public stage with such moral clarity that people stop and really listen. When this person is an elected official who defies stereotypes to deliver a politically incorrect message, people begin to question what they’ve been told.

Pretty soon, journalists begin sticking their pens in such a savant, sure he or she must be full of hot air. Politicians with opposing positions throw mud, certain it’ll stick. But when the person doesn’t deflate and the political dirt won’t obstruct the message, the detractors step back. By contrast, this startlingly honest official can show them for what they really are.

Such is how those who would ban guns now see Sheriff David Clarke Jr. of Milwaukee County, Wis. Sheriff Clarke has decades of law enforcement experience in a large city—and he is a vocal defender of the Second Amendment.

Sheriff Clarke began speaking out about gun rights after he saw that the police were struggling to effectively protect the people of Milwaukee. The average response time for 9-1-1 calls in the city of Milwaukee had grown to nearly an hour.

“If people have to wait an hour for help, then they have to be able to protect themselves until the good guys arrive,” Clarke says.

With budgets being cut, Sheriff Clarke had to reduce his force. The same thing has been happening with the Milwaukee Police Department. Given this situation, Sheriff Clarke decided to ask the residents of Milwaukee County for help. He went to a radio studio and recorded a series of public-information spots.

In one radio spot, Sheriff Clarke asked: “With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 9-1-1 and waiting is no longer your best option. You could beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed or you could fight back. But are you prepared? Consider taking a certified safety course on handling a firearm so you can defend yourself until we get there. You have a duty to protect yourself and your family. We’re partners now. Can I count on you?”

Sheriff Clarke had decided it was his duty to tell residents they could now get a permit to carry a concealed firearm. This was a relatively new development. In 2011, the state of Wisconsin actually became the 49th state to allow citizens the right to carry concealed handguns. (Illinois was forced by the courts to be the 50th last year.) By law, the Wisconsin Department of Justice must now issue a concealed-carry license to any resident applicant who is 21 years of age or older and who is not prohibited under state or federal law from possessing a firearm.

As a former homicide detective, Sheriff Clarke knows firsthand how important this freedom is. U.S. crime statistics published by the U.S. Census show that in 2010, for example, the violent crime rate for Milwaukee was higher than the national average by 159 percent.

“To put it bluntly, self-defense is the first law of nature,” Sheriff Clarke said recently in an exclusiveAmerica’s 1st Freedom interview. “When good people have the freedom to carry concealed firearms, society gets safer.”

Sheriff Clarke is not politically naïve. He is, and was at the time of the radio campaign, well aware that asking individuals to take some responsibility is a direct attack on the politically correct view of gun controllers. Anti-gun elites would argue that citizens can’t be trusted as “partners.” Citizens who don’t have armed escorts are simply supposed to call 9-1-1 and wait; they are not supposed to protect themselves and their loved ones with potentially lethal force. No, the average person can’t be trusted with so much freedom, even if it is a founding principle of our free republic, says Milwaukee’s Mayor Tom Barrett and others who oppose Second Amendment-based rights.

This Sheriff Trusts the People

The view of those on the anti-gun left is that a person like Sheriff Clarke must be an unsophisticated rube who can be put on a national stage and mocked by the much-more urbane, anti-gun media elite. So former CNN show host Piers Morgan invited Sheriff Clarke on his then hour-long show. When Sheriff Clarke couldn’t make the time slot, Morgan’s producers stayed after him until they found a time that worked.

The sheriff says now he knew it would be a fight, but he didn’t realize just how rude Morgan would be.

After playing a recording of one of Sheriff Clarke’s radio spots, Morgan said, with dragged-out syllables strumming a you-must-be-stupid tone, “I mean, Sheriff, listening to the way that you phrased yourself in that ad, the kind of Hollywood voice you put on, the deep tones, making it all sound terribly exciting and dramatic, it sounded like some kind of John Wayne movie.”

To a lot of Americans, a John Wayne allusion is a profound compliment. But to Morgan’s English peers and his liberal American fans, this is a code word for someone so simpleminded that he actually sees himself as a swaggering cowboy who can outdraw the bad guys every time.

When Morgan finally paused, Sheriff Clarke began, “Well, first of all, I object to the Hollywood voice. This is the way I talk.”

Photo credit: Alyssa Shukar

Indeed, his voice was the same on Piers Morgan’s show as it was for the radio spot. Now, if you watch Morgan’s expression when Sheriff Clarke says this, you can see his face contort slightly as he realizes he miscalculated. This Sheriff Clarke wasn’t just a swashbuckling sheriff from a flyover city. He’s real and has come to deep moral conclusions based on decades of law enforcement experience and a scholarly study of the history of freedom. Sheriff Clarke has no problem rattling off constitutional amendments by number and citing their legal precedents and meaning.

Actually, if Piers Morgan ever wants to reflect on why his show failed in America, he should look back at the way he treated Sheriff Clarke. Clarke’s 35-plus years as a law enforcement professional began in 1978, at the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD). He was promoted to detective in 1989, and nine months later was selected for the specialized Homicide Division, where he was part of a team that investigated more than 400 homicides in a four-year period.

Clarke was promoted in 1992 to lieutenant of detectives and was assigned to the Criminal Investigation Bureau. In 1996, he was promoted to MPD’s command staff as captain of police, and soon became commander of the department’s First District. In 1999, Clarke became Commanding Officer of MPD’s Intelligence Division. Clarke served as the department’s liaison with the U.S. Attorney as coordinator of the ceasefire violent crime reduction program.

In March 2002, Gov. Scott McCallum appointed Clarke as sheriff. Eight months later, he was elected to his first four-year term. Sheriff Clarke is now in his third term.

Faced with such a genuine article, Morgan should have asked probing questions to understand the sheriff’s stance on the issues. Instead, he shifted into a derisive attack designed to pummel a stoic and deferential man.

In his attempt to get the upper hand, Morgan asked a question that’s statistically impossible to answer: “In your time as the sheriff, how many people in Milwaukee, to your certain knowledge, have defended themselves and their family at home by firing a firearm?”

Sheriff Clarke replied, “I don’t have those statistics.”

Of course he didn’t. That’s not even a statistic police and sheriff’s departments keep. And if they tried to keep such records, how would they measure crimes avoided or thwarted with guns? It’s just too subjective for hard numbers.

So Morgan quips, “You haven’t got a clue, do you? You haven’t got a clue.”

After a lot of childish repetition from Morgan, the sheriff breaks in: “Are we going to have an honest exchange here? Or are you just going to continue to talk over me?”

Morgan, by then aware of the morality, intelligence and deep experience of the stand-up man he was up against, had no intention of letting Sheriff Clarke articulate a point of view. Sarcasm and belittling ridicule are effective weapons when the audience is young and naïve, and Morgan knows how to use them as a butcher does his knives.

Regardless of Morgan’s puerile style, Sheriff Clarke did manage to get in a few swings. He pushed back against Morgan’s other guest, Milwaukee’s virulently anti-gun mayor Tom Barrett, by saying:

“Mayor … you have an armed security staff that follows you around that the average person doesn’t have. Several summers ago, you were involved in an incident where a tire iron-wielding suspect beat you within inches of your life. I’m sure that if you had a gun and a plan that day, the outcome would have been a little different.”

He also slammed Morgan’s view that individual citizens can’t be trusted with their right to self-defense by saying, “[We should] start by enforcing the laws that are on the books first before we start penalizing law-abiding citizens. Because I trust law-abiding citizens.”

In contrast, Mayor Barrett’s response to gun violence in Milwaukee has been to ask residents to observe a “Cease Fire Week.” He has held gun-violence forums and gun “buyback” drives. He has furloughed mpd officers, and he often recites talking points from Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun group Mayors Against Illegal Guns—Barrett is a founding member.

Given his contrast to Mayor Barrett, Sheriff Clarke says he wasn’t surprised by the intensity of the attacks from Morgan and others who oppose the citizens’ right to bear arms.

“Those who oppose gun rights were apoplectic when they heard my radio spots asking law-abiding citizens to take gun-safety courses and to learn to protect themselves as they wait for the police to arrive,” Sheriff Clarke said.

“What really bothers me, though,” says Sheriff Clarke, “is that some claim I’m arguing for vigilantism. I’m not. Actually, when defending your life becomes vigilantism, the world is upside down.”

The Sheriff Isn’t Done

When asked why he feels so strongly about the right to bear arms, Sheriff Clarke says no single event flashes through his mind. Instead, a collage of real people in real situations plays through his memory like a sizzle reel for why citizens need the right to defend themselves with firearms.

He gives a few examples.

“Last year a woman in Milwaukee was being viciously beaten at a bus stop by a former boyfriend,” he said. “A guy driving home from work saw the attack and stopped. He told the attacker to knock it off. The ex-boyfriend started walking toward the Good Samaritan. So the citizen pulled his self-defense handgun out and, just like that, the attacker ran. No shots were fired.

Milwaukee resident Jeffrey Clay expresses his support for Clarke outside the Milwaukee County Courthouse. [Photo credit: Alyssa Shukar]

“There is no statistic to measure what happened. But that girl was saved. Now I ask, would that Good Samaritan have stopped and confronted the attacker if he didn’t have a self-defense gun?”

In another example, Sheriff Clarke mentions a janitor who was being beaten to death by a group of thugs with a baseball bat.

“That janitor managed to pull his self-defense gun and shot and killed two of his attackers,” Sheriff Clarke said. “If he didn’t have the gun, he’d have been killed.

“I can give more real examples of armed citizens preventing attacks and stopping potential murders, but, again, such things are difficult to measure statistically.”

He adds: “I talked to both of those people. I try to talk to every one of my constituents who is forced to fight for their life. I call them to tell them I’m proud of them.”

Sheriff Clarke points out that, as a minority, many expect him to have a different view of the right to keep and bear arms. That’s not slowing him down, though, in speaking out for protection of private firearm ownership.

“I’m a black man,” he said. “I’m not supposed to have these views of our freedom. A lot of blacks today have been estranged from their history. They’ve been conditioned by an anti-gun, inner-city culture. They don’t know that after the American Civil War a lot of previous slave states passed laws to disarm blacks.

“Today, many in the inner cities don’t realize that the 13th Amendment to the u.s. Constitution freed the slaves and the 14th Amendment made certain freed slaves had their rights, such as the right to bear arms. They don’t know that Frederick Douglass wrote in his autobiography [‘The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass’ (1881)] that American liberty depends upon ‘the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box.’ But I’m sure trying to tell them.”

In May 2013, Sheriff Clarke was presented the “Sheriff of the Year Award” from the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association for “demonstrating true leadership and courage … staying true to his oath, true to his badge and true to the people he has promised to serve and protect.”

Some are now calling for Sheriff Clarke to take on Mayor Barrett in the next election for mayor of Milwaukee. Clarke says he’s considering doing just that.

We’ll keep you posted.


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