[A slightly abbreviated version of this book review was published in the Spring/Summer issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp. 173-180.]

 

Book Review

 

Cop Under Fire

Sheriff David Clarke, Jr., with Nancy French

Worthy Publishing, 2017

 

          In starting this review, we have struggled to find superlatives adequate to describe Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, Jr.  If masculinity were not now so deprecated, it would be natural to exclaim. “Here, in all its ideal form, is a Man’s Man.”  Clarke makes an astonishing impression: he “stands tall” (enhanced by a cowboy hat and boots) and strikes one as a living embodiment of strength, character, values, level-headed thinking – and of fierce resistance to the ideological neuroses that in the United States have so long pre-empted the Civil Rights movement and committed large numbers of his fellow blacks to a swamp of resentment, dependency, irresponsibility, and identity politics.

          About Clarke.  Clarke is black, and matters involving race make up most of his book.  His message, however, has much that is worthwhile for readers of all races, both as to the values he expresses and for its devastating critique of the Left’s outlook that weighs so heavily on American life today.  At the same time, the book can be read, precisely because of Clarke’s blackness, as speaking most particularly to a black readership.  He is an exemplar who offers black Americans an alternative to such “cultural gatekeepers of blackness” as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and the entire army of “black activists.”  His critique of the Left shows how much its ideology and political program have ill-served the very people it has purported to champion.  It will, of course, be for blacks to decide what leadership they will welcome; in this connection it is significant that Clarke has received strong support from black voters in Milwaukee, where he has four times been elected sheriff.  This would indicate that there are many who agree with him. 

          Clarke grew up in Milwaukee housing projects, in a neighborhood mainly white, where he received a “traditional upbringing” by a strict father who had been a Ranger in the Korean War.  A significant influence from his father that no doubt set him on a path very different from so many black leaders was that his father “never encouraged the racial hypersensitivity seen too frequently today” and “didn’t like identity politics.”  Clarke attended a Catholic school, and writes that he loves the Latin mass, so we see throughout the book that religion is important to him.  His education includes bachelors and masters degrees; his wife is white; and his 38-year career in police work included eleven years as a beat patrolman, on foot or in a car.  Promoted to detective, he was assigned to the Homicide Division, where he investigated more than 400 murders.  One promotion followed another, until finally he became head of an Intelligence Division.

          An uncle was a receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, and Clarke’s love for that uncle led to “my affinity for my trademark cowboy hat and cowboy boots.”  The hat and boots add to his striking physical presence, and, along with everything else, may account for his years of political success as a “black conservative” in one of America’s most pronouncedly leftist cities.   After he was appointed sheriff of Milwaukee County by a Republican governor in 2002, he was elected to four terms. He wanted to run as a Republican, but was told by the governor’s office that because the county was heavily Democratic, “you’ll need to be a Democrat.”  Over the years, he has been apolitical, steering clear of the Republican Party, but also having received adamant opposition from the media and the local Democrats (as well as from Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun Political Action Committee).  None of that has blocked his popularity with the voters, including his black constituents. 

          In 2016, Clarke campaigned hard for Donald Trump.  He says his mission now is to work to “reform the Democratic Party from within”[1] and to continue until “the false narrative about the American police officer” (a narrative he sees coming from a “subversive, anarchist, hateful movement”) “dies the ideological death it deserves.”

          His aversion to racialist ideology.  Although Cop Under Fire tells much about Clarke himself, its commentary on the American cultural and ideological scene gives it substance.  He thinks liberal ideology devastating to blacks: it “has destroyed the black family, destroyed black motivation, destroyed the once strong black work ethic, and estranged black men from involvement in their children’s lives.”  An incongruity he notes is that although “liberal Democrats” promote this ideology, and have even sponsored trillions of dollars of tax-funded expenditures on ineffectual poverty programs, their party has done rather little that’s meaningful for blacks: “Blacks have been taken for granted far too long by the Democratic Party.”  He adds: “Democrat politicians no longer even have to try to win our votes.”[2]  Much the same can be said for the “civil rights groups” that are perceived as advocates for minorities.  Clarke says they have sought to “insulate people from terrible behavior, laziness, insubordination, and resentment.” [3]       

Although there is among blacks an “underclass,” including a “criminal underclass,” Clarke says it is by no means coterminous with the black population as a whole.  Clarke says “I got many compliments from people in the black community… They are a silent majority for fear of being ostracized by other blacks.”  Clarke is himself taunted as “a house negro” and for “selling out my race” – and such epithets are intimidating to those who simply want to live their lives.

This silent majority notwithstanding, there is marked dysfunction among many American blacks: Clarke describes a “cycle of failure,” which is evident when “generations of black kids are functionally illiterate because their parents are functionally illiterate.”  He tells of University of Kansas research that shows that “parents on welfare had half as much verbal interactions with their children than working-class parents”; that they praise their children less often; and that they read to them less.  Clarke is right when he says teachers “can’t perform miracles” for such children.[4] 

His thinking about racism is 180 degrees opposite to the perceptions we hear from alienated ideology.  He observes that racism “is episodic, not rampant or institutional.”  There are “black racialists,” he says, “who view everything through the prism of race.”  His experience, in many years of police work and in life, has shown him that racism does exist, but that it does not permeate American society.  This difference in outlook between Clarke and the racialists is stark.  It is crucial to his perception of American society in general, and especially to his defense of the police against the sweeping attacks made upon them.

What Clarke wants is uplift.  Cop Under Fire takes its place alongside Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint’s Come On, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors as a call by a black to other blacks to grasp life in its most constructive form.[5]  Another book, also excellent, in the same genre is Juan Williams’ Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America – and What We Can Do About It.  Both books have been reviewed in these pages.[6]  

Clarke’s discussion of “the war on cops.”  Much of the book centers on the militant attack on the police that is the thrust of leftist ideology that has commanded so much attention recently.  Cop Under Fire is a valuable supplement to Heather MacDonald’s The War on Cops, which we reviewed in our Spring 2017 issue.[7]  MacDonald, a contributing editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, brings the research of a scholarly journalist to the subject, whereas Clarke adds the dimension of personal and professional experience from his years in police work. 

Those years have shown him, he says, there is no such thing as wide-spread police brutality, notwithstanding that specific incidents do occur.  Speaking of the narrative that “police are killing black Americans simply because of their skin color,” he says “there is no data or research to support such a claim,” and his own experience doesn’t confirm it.  Instead, “I’ve seen firsthand the care that officers, even white officers, expend – at risk to their own lives – to keep poor minority communities safe.”  Accordingly, he considers it a slander of the worst sort when “black activists always cry, ‘Police brutality!’ no matter what the circumstances.”

Clarke takes the activists’ battle cry “Black Lives Matter” and transforms it into something quite the opposite: “Black LIES matter.”  He says the BLM movement is an “antipolice hate group based on the lie of police brutality.”  The lies come not only from the activists, but from much of the media: “The stories about race that dominate the news are, more often than not, utter fabrications.”  The lies are accompanied by a radically biased and selective perception.  Clarke points out that “when the tragedies happened in Louisiana and Minnesota, do you know that twenty-one black people were murdered across the United States?  Was there any reporting on that?”  He adds: “When we see the black-on-black crime that happens every single day across America, there’s not one single sound of protest from the Black LIES matter crowd.”  This leads him to think the real goal is “their own radical ideology of terrorism: anarchy.”   He concludes that it is evident that despite their rhetoric, “they do not care about black lives.”[8]         

          Readers will find valuable Clarke’s dissection of the fabrications and demagoguery about the cases that, by massive publicity, have each served as a cause celebre of the anti-police movement.  Both his and the MacDonald book discuss in detail the cases of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri), and Eric Garner.  In the Martin case in which a neighborhood watchman shot a black teenager in February 2012, Clarke notes that the media “muddled [the watchman’s] race, calling him a “white Hispanic”;  used a photo of Trayvon as a child, much younger than he was; “purposely made it look like racial profiling”; and made Martin a martyr.  When the watchman was put on trial, the evidence showed he fired his gun in self-defense, resulting in a verdict of not guilty.  Clarke says “the media wanted a racial parable, so that’s what we got.”  A crescendo of agitation surrounded the case, including President Obama’s statement that “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”  Death threats came in by the hundreds.

          It was the Ferguson, Missouri, case that most stimulated the “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) movement.  “Hands up, don’t shoot” became a mantra during the nationwide protests that accompanied the violence and looting that occurred in Ferguson.  On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, a young black man, had purportedly been shot in the back by a white policeman while having his hands up, trying to surrender.  Clarke says the trouble with this narrative was that “the story was not true.”  The autopsy showed that Brown was on drugs enough “to cause hallucinations and paranoia”; the blood splatters proved “that Brown was coming at the officer, not running away from him”; and several black witnesses, who “had to remain in hiding because of the violence,” testified that Brown did not have his hands raised.  The policeman was exonerated after an exhaustive investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.  Nevertheless, the Ferguson Police Department thought it too dangerous to keep him on its force, and “other police departments told him the same thing.”  He and his family have to live in hiding.

          The one major incident that in the opinion of this reviewer provided ground for a legitimate perception of abusive policing was that of Eric Garner.  As a part of its “Broken Windows” campaign to catch even small violations to create an atmosphere of complying with law in general, an attempt was made in August 2014 to arrest Garner for illegally selling untaxed cigarettes.  (Garner had been arrested more than thirty times before for that and other minor offenses.)   Garner, a 400-pound black man (MacDonald says 350), died of cardiac arrest when a Staten Island policeman put him in “what had been described as a headlock” after Garner resisted arrest by breaking away.  A video showed Garner said eleven times that he couldn’t breathe and that after he became unconscious he was left unattended for what MacDonald calls “a seemingly interminable time” before he was taken to an emergency room. When a grand jury considered the case, it decided against indicting the police officer.  Garner’s windpipe had not been damaged, and the autopsy indicated there were a number of contributing factors to his death, including acute asthma, heart disease and obesity.  The grand jury decision notwithstanding, the Garner death was given great emphasis by the BLM movement.  New York mayor Bill de Blasio made it the basis for an expansive charge of “centuries of racism.”  Some major NBA basketball stars wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts.  For her part, MacDonald calls Garner’s death “a tragic aberration,” and counters the “racism” charge by saying “there is no New York City institution more dedicated to the proposition that ‘black lives matter’ than the New York Police Department.”  In Cops Under Fire, Clarke tells of the case without commenting on whether the police conduct was defensible, centering his discussion on the racialist demagoguery that followed it.  He notes that “the perpetually aggrieved   [Al] Sharpton descended to protest and lead a candlelight vigil.”  We know, of course, that Clarke’s thinking is based on his experience that widespread police abuse and racism do not exist.

          There are other aspects of Clarke’s book to comment on before we finish this review.  In complete contradiction to “politically correct” ideology, he says we “should profile terror suspects.”  Why?  Because that would be the alternative to “spying on or suspecting every American of terror involvement.”  He points to the sham and dangers in such a thing as the Air Marshal Service, which provides the thinnest conceivable protection despite all the money that is spent on it.  When “fewer than 1 percent of the flights have an armed federal air marshal on board,” what’s needed are profiling and improved intelligence, not counting on a marshal’s protection. 

          Clarke strongly supports the right of citizens to be armed.  “You’ve heard the old saying: when seconds count, the police are minutes away.”  The reality is that “the police can’t protect you, at least not all of you all the time.”  Calling the 911 emergency dispatcher is often a weak reed for someone in danger to rely on, “with officers laid off and furloughed.”  He advises taking a certified safety course and arming oneself “to defend yourself until we can get there.”  The United States, he says, has a long history of self-defense, as he shows by quotes from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (who "advised, ‘Let your gun be your constant companion on your walks’”).  His points are, of course, not a complete discussion of a rather complex subject, but do convey some serious on-the-ground realities.

          We have mentioned the importance of religion to him, so it is fitting to end this review by highlighting his theme of cultural and spiritual uplift, both for Americans in general and for blacks in particular.  He says people thank him for protecting the community through his police work, but he says “the truth is” that religious leaders “are doing the real work that transforms communities.  Faith transforms: sheriffs, policies, entitlement programs, and politicians do not.”       He points to the importance of “domestic life with a wife and kids… hard work.  Personal responsibility.”

          Although the book is told in the first person as in effect a memoir by Sheriff Clarke, his co-author, Nancy French, deserves credit for helping fashion a readable and inspiring account.  Our only regret is that the presence of a co-author impairs the ability of a reader, by scrutinizing each thought and turn of phrase, to enter directly into the mind of the principal author.  Nevertheless, readers will feel they have gotten to know Clarke well.

 

Dwight D. Murphey

 

 

ENDNOTES

 

                                                                               1.  This may suggest that he intends to become active in the Democratic Party, although there is nothing in the book to indicate that.

2.  We are using “liberal” here in the present-day American acceptation of the word.  It refers, of course, to something very different from “classical liberalism.” 

3.  Clarke is right when he adds, about Republicans, that “they have historically failed to reach out to us effectively.”  This reviewer has a case in point from his own experience: when he ran for the University of Colorado Board of Regents in 1960, he was the only Republican to attend a “candidates’ forum in an industrial suburb of Denver.  The others saw little value in speaking to an audience they expected to be heavily Democratic.  While this may have been a practical option in the short run, it mean failing to “get the message out” to those who were not already persuaded.

4.  We notice he sees these traits, as well, in the broader context of American society: “Americans [have] stopped believing in personal responsibility.  These days, no matter what a person does, there’s an explanation for the behavior.”  Not all Americans, of course, have adopted this new ethos, but we can often see the attitude expressed in the sympathetic human interest stories run in the press about unfortunate wrongdoers who “were just about to turn their lives around.”

5.  It would seem that he is inconsistent about this when he wants black parents to start suing the schools and speaks of “our failed schools,” but his criticisms come in the context of his wanting to revamp the education offered to black students – he favors school choice, school vouchers, and charter schools in black neighborhoods.  His rationale for school choice is perhaps an anticipation, or at least a hope, that it will cause black parents to be more attentive, leading perhaps to a reversal of the patterns of inattention.  It would be well if he explained his rationale, because another possibility is that charter schools may be a way of separating those who are motivated (who choose to go to the charter school) from those who are not.  If that were the case, it would be interesting to know whether Clarke thinks the separation of achievers from others would, or would not, be in the long-term interest of blacks.  We suspect that, as an achiever himself, he would want others like himself to do well, and for all successful blacks to constitute examples that will encourage a withering away of the underclass.

6.  It is a tragedy for blacks (as well as others) that Cosby’s reputation has come under the cloud it has for alleged sexual misconduct (for which a recent court case resulted in a mistrial [and a still later one in a conviction].)  His book and his long-running television show exemplifying a middle class black family deserve to stand on their own merits as outstanding appeals to American blacks.

7.  They are reviewed together in the Book Review Article “Urging Uplift for American Blacks: Two Recent Books – a Critique” published in the Fall 2008 issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp. 351-369.  The article may be accessed free of charge as Article 97 (i.e., A97) on this reviewers’ collected-writings website.

8.  Our review is available as Book Review 197 (i.e., BR197) on the website just mentioned.

9.  While we are mentioning this skewing of perception, it is worth noticing that, in common with MacDonald, Clarke sees through the abuse of statistics that so commonly compares the percentage of blacks arrested, given traffic tickets, or in prison to the percentage of blacks in the American population.  As we explain in detail in our review of the MacDonald book, the proper comparison, as Clarke also shows, is between the percentage of blacks among those apprehended and the percentage of blacks in the total body of offenders, not in the black population as a whole.

  

    

 

 



[1]   This may suggest that he intends to become active in the Democratic Party, although there is nothing else in the book to indicate that. 

[2]     Clarke is right when he adds, about Republicans, that “they have historically failed to reach out to us effectively.”  This reviewer has a case in point from his own experience: when he ran for the University of Colorado Board of Regents in 1960, he was the only Republican to attend a “candidate’s forum” in an industrial suburb of Denver.  The others saw little value in speaking to an audience they expected to be heavily Democratic.  While this may have been a practical option in the short run, it meant failing to “get the message out” to those who were not already persuaded. 

[3]    We notice he sees these traits, as well, in the broader context of American society: “Americans [have] stopped believing in personal responsibility.  These days, no matter what a person does, there’s an explanation for the behavior.”  Not all Americans, of course, have adopted this new ethos, but we can often see the attitude expressed in the sympathetic human interest stories run in the press about unfortunate wrongdoers who “were just about to turn their lives around.” 

[4]   It would seem that he is inconsistent about this when he wants black parents to start suing the schools and speaks of “our failed schools,” but his criticisms come in the context of his wanting to revamp the education offered black students – he favors school choice, school vouchers, and charter schools in black neighborhoods.  His rationale for school choice is perhaps an anticipation, or at least a hope, that it will cause black parents to be more attentive, leading perhaps to a reversal of the patterns of inattention.  It would be well if he explained his rationale, because another possibility is that charter schools may be a way of separating those who are motivated (who choose to go to the charter school) from those who are not.  If that were the case, it would be interesting to know whether Clarke thinks the separation of achievers from others would, or would not, be in the long-term interest of blacks.  We suspect that, as an achiever himself, he would want others like himself to do well, and for all successful blacks to constitute examples that will encourage a withering away of the underclass.

 

[5]   It is a tragedy for blacks (as well as others) that Cosby’s reputation has come under the cloud it has for alleged sexual misconduct (for which the recent court case resulted in a mistrial).  His book and his long-running television show exemplifying a middle class black family deserve to stand on their own merits as outstanding appeals to American blacks.

[6]   They are reviewed together in the Book Review Article “Urging Uplift for American Blacks: Two Recent Books – a Critique” published in the Fall 2008 issue of this Journal, pp. 351-369.  The article may be accessed free of charge as Article 97 (i.e., A97) on the website www.dwightmurphey-collectedwritings.info.

[7]   Our review is available as Book Review 197 (i.e., BR197) on the website mentioned in Footnote 6.

[8]   While we are mentioning this skewing of perception, it is worth noticing that, in common with MacDonald, Clarke sees through the abuse of statistics that so commonly compares the percentage of blacks arrested, given traffic tickets, or in prison to the percentage of blacks in the American population.  As we explain in detail in our review of the MacDonald book, the proper comparison, as Clarke also shows, is between the percentage of blacks among those apprehended and the percentage of blacks in the total body of offenders, not in the black population as a whole.