(BCN editor’s note: Sheriff Clarke’s full testimony)
Democrat Rep. Steve Cohen (Tenn.) anticipated Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke readily conceding a point the legislator was making, but the straight-talking sheriff’s response caught him completely off guard.
Clarke was part of a panel testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday concerning “Policing Strategies for the 21st Century.” One of the topics of the hearing was the rising tensions between police and the black community in parts of the country.
During Clarke’s five minute opening statement, he cautioned lawmakers not to jump to the conclusion that, because of Ferguson and other high-profile, racially charged incidents and the high incarceration rates of black people, police department policies are mainly to blame.
Clarke noted that “black-on-black crime” is a real elephant in the room along with drug use, which he called the “scourge of the black community.” He said the high incarceration rate “is not the result of a discriminatory criminal justice system.” The truth of the matter is that blacks engage in violent and drug-related crimes at a higher rate than the general population, resulting in a higher black incarceration rate, the lawman argued.
Concerning police use of force, Clarke referenced a study conducted between 2009-2012 which found that 61 percent of those who died due to police use of force were white males, while 32 percent were black males.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who is a former federal prosecutor, said regarding police use of force during the hearing: “I want us to get to the point where we lament the murder of a black female … at the hand of her abusive husband … just as much as if it was at the hand of a white cop.”
On the topic of the nation adopting federal policing standards, Clarke rejected the notion, arguing police work is a local government matter.
When it was Cohen’s turn to question Clarke, he started out with apparent confidence that he could get the sheriff to concede at least one point to him; but he was soon disappointed. As reported by Bizpac Review:
“You said that illegal drug use is the scourge of the black community and it is a problem and leads to a great deal of violent crime,” Cohen said.
“Would you agree that marijuana possession is not the scourge of the black community and does not lead to violent crime the same way that meth, crack cocaine, and heroin do?”
“No, I wouldn’t agree with that at all,” Clarke said.
Whatever point Cohen was trying to make was lost.
“Well, that’s interesting, and I wish I had more time to talk to you,” Cohen fumbled. “Thank you for allowing me this opportunity.”
The exchange clearly didn’t go the way the Cohen expected. In fact, his nervous laughter showed just how embarrassed he was.
“It was such an obvious answer — I just never thought I’d get that answer,” he said.
He clearly didn’t give it any thought at all.
Sheriff David Clarke has. And it showed.
BCN editor’s note: This article first appeared at Western Journalism.