Mass protests turned violent in Milwaukee this weekend, following the fatal police shooting of 23-year-old Sylville Smith on Saturday. Within hours of his death, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke asked Gov. Scott Walker to activate the National Guard and blamed the protests on “the growth of the underclass.”
Outraged Milwaukee residents stormed the streets on Saturday, as news spread of Smith’s shooting. Police say an unidentified officer opened fire when Smith, who was black, fled a traffic stop and refused to drop his gun when he turned and faced the officer. Soon after, protesters took to the streets, smashing a police car and setting a gas station and several businesses ablaze. Milwaukee officials have since disclosed that the officer who fatally shot Smith is black.
On Sunday, Clarke — who’s repeatedly said there’s a war on police — called on Walker to activate the National Guard. He also blamed the protests on people from the “ghetto” and slammed those who criticize police.
“Stop trying to fix the police, fix the ghetto,” he said during a press conference. “We have a growth of the underclass here in Milwaukee. And we saw some of their behaviors on display (Saturday) night.” Clarke also claimed that the protests weren’t spontaneous, and pointed out that homicides in the city happened on Friday and Saturday.
The county sheriff has long been a staunch opponent of Black Lives Matter and critics of the police more generally. He called Ferguson protesters “vultures on a roadside carcass” and has gone so far as to say that Black Lives Matter would eventually team up with the terrorist group ISIS. He described the decision to charge the six Baltimore officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death as a “human sacrifice,” and frequently spouts the debunked myth that people have launched a war against cops.
“Americans watching the news of the murders of police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are observing a civil war unfold within our borders. A war between rule of law and anarchy-seeking hate,” he wrote in an article for The Hill last month, referring to attacks on officers as “guerilla warfare.” “It’s time to reclaim our future and it begins by condemning Black Lives Matter, organizers and inspiration for hate, friend to enemies of law and order.
Last year, Clarke referred to members of Black Lives Matter as “Black Slime” who need to be “eradicated.”
On Sunday, Clarke said he would use his resources to prevent more chaos in Milwaukee. But the violent demonstrations resumed in the evening, and officers in riot gear squared off with protesters once more.
Multiple people at the scene pointed to social and economic conditions that led up to the violent outburst, including limited job and education opportunities. According to the Brookings Institution, Milwaukee is the country’s most segregated city, which has led to crippling poverty.
Others said police brutality was at the heart of the issue.
“They have been taking our folks for too long,” a woman told USA Today. “This is a rights issue.”
Indeed, Milwaukee police officers have an extensive history of violating citizens’ rights using illegal strip searches, beatings, and lethal force. In 2014, a Milwaukee officer shot Dontre Hamiltion, a schizophrenic man who’d been sleeping in a park when officers started harassing him, 31 times.
Nevertheless, Clarke maintains police brutality is a thing of the past.
“First of all, there is no police brutality in America. We ended that back in the ’60s,” he told Fox News last October. “ You look at the data and the research, and there’s a new Harvard study out that shows that there is no racism in the hearts of police officers. They go about their daily duty, if you will, to keep communities safe.”
During an interview with Fox News on Monday morning, Clarke said that “tribal behavior” took hold of the city over the weekend. After commenting on poverty and poor education in Milwaukee, he continued to blame protesters for the chaos that ensued.
“Some of this is self-inflicted. All the kids with no fathers around — father-absent homes. When fathers are not around to shape behavior of young men, they often times grow up to be unmanageable misfits,” he said, adding, “I won’t be happy until the creep rioters crawl back into the hole.”