One of my favorite movies is Saving Private Ryan. (Generally speaking, I’m a sucker for a good WWII flick.) Macabre as it may sound, my favorite scene in the movie is when the medic Irwin Wade (played by Giovanni Ribisi) is mortally wounded by gunfire.
The men in his company scramble to treat his wounds, but their efforts are in vain; Wade is too badly injured. He knows he’s going to die in a foreign country, thousands of miles from home. With his last breaths, Wade doesn’t pontificate on the madness of war; he doesn’t give a Hollywood-esque speech exhorting his brothers to “Finish the mission.” He merely calls out for his mother, over and over again, until his last breath.
When times are tough, we all yearn for the comfort of familiar ground. Surrounding ourselves with those who unequivocally support us makes the rough spots a little easier to manage; strength in numbers, and all that. So it should come as no surprise that the newly-unemployed David Clarke—described by Vanity Fair as “America’s Second Worst Sheriff”—is likely heading for the warm embrace of the Trump administration.
In the White House, Clarke will find himself in the company of individuals who share Clarke’s beliefs; specifically, that prisoners do not deserve basic human rights. The former sheriff’s misdeeds are surpassed in number and ghastliness only by those of the newly-pardoned yet defiantly unapologetic Joe Arpaio.
Arpaio’s abuses were targeted, taking the form of racial profiling and the singling out of Hispanic prisoners for exceptionally cruel treatment. Clarke, on the other hand, was far more egalitarian in his treatment of prisoners: everyone was treated horribly. While it appears Arpaio’s actions had their roots in xenophobia and racism, the foundation of Clarke’s actions is perhaps more sinister.
Last April, inmate Terrill Thomas died of profound dehydration after the jail staff turned off the water in his cell for seven days as punishment for bad behavior. Fellow inmates told investigators that they heard Thomas—who suffered from acute psychological disorders—begging for water for days before he died. He was 38 years old.
This past March, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) on behalf of more than 40 female prisoners who were pregnant during their incarceration and were shackled while in labor.
This is the third such lawsuit filed against the MCSO; the first, filed in 2014 by a former female inmate, alleged that not only was she shackled during 21 hours of labor, she was also sexually assaulted by a prison guard and received inadequate nutrition for a pregnant woman.
The second lawsuit, filed in December 2016, alleged that Shadé Swayzer, who was 8 ½ months pregnant and diagnosed with a severe mental illness at the time of her arrest on July 6th, 2016, was given prenatal vitamins only once and received little to no medical attention. Swayzer went into labor in her cell on July 14th; according to the lawsuit, when she attempted to notify the guards of her need for medical attention, she was “laughed at.” Swayzer gave birth to the baby alone in her cell; guards did not check on her for six hours after her first request for medical attention, and by the time they did, the baby was dead.
Naturally, Clarke is a self-professed devout, pro-life Christian. Funny how that works out.
Clarke’s utter lack of regard for the well-being of those around him is not solely limited to pregnant women (perhaps the most vulnerable population in the prison system). In February of this year, Clarke engaged in a verbal altercation on an airplane with a fellow passenger. The reason? The passenger, a Green Bay Packers fan, shook his head at Clarke’s Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt.
This would be humorous if not for the fact that Clarke, infuriated beyond reason over this perceived disrespect, directed his staff to harass the passenger in the airport. Clarke refused to cooperate with the subsequent investigation; additionally, Clarke taunted and harassed the man on Facebook.
David Clarke is not a strict adherent of any moral or ideological framework. He is not “tough on crime”; he does not “keep us safe from the bad guys.” David Clarke abuses people solely because he can.
Clarke and the Trump administration are a match made in hell. The endlessly insecure Trump loves to place himself in the company of traditional power figures like police officers and military generals, believing that he will be viewed as powerful by association. Clarke, meanwhile, will not only be allowed to resume his pattern of abuse—he will be encouraged to do so. Clarke will be in the employ of a president who views humanity as a weaknesses and savagery as an enviable trait.
Welcome home, Sheriff Clarke. You’re right where you belong.