Utah officers hearing from polarizing former Milwaukee sheriff is ‘extremely problematic,’ critic says

Utah Sheriffs Association invited controversial former sheriff David Clarke to be keynote speaker for their annual conference next week.

He’s a polarizing ex-sheriff who has spoken at a QAnon convention and has shown support for the far-right militia group Proud Boys.

He’s called for Black Lives Matter to be considered a hate group, and refers to the organization as “Black Lies Matter.”

And soon former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke will be sharing his message with Utah law enforcement, after the Utah Sheriffs Association booked the controversial figure as the keynote speaker for its annual conference that begins next week.

It’s a decision that’s caused concern for police reform advocates in Utah.

“It’s extremely problematic,” said Rae Duckworth, the leader of Black Lives Matter Utah.

Jade Arter, an organizer with Utah Against Police Brutality, said the decision, “unfortunately,” wasn’t surprising.

“David Clarke is the epitome of what it means to be law enforcement in this country today,” Arter said in a statement. “He has continually defended the use of state violence and the repression of dissenting voices by using police as an occupying force within our communities to maintain the status quo, which only serve to protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful, and places the value of profits for a few over the needs and well-being of the many.”

It’s not clear what message the Utah Sheriffs Association, a nonprofit organization made up of the state’s elected sheriffs, hopes Clarke will bring to the law enforcement and corrections officers in attendance.

Cache County Sheriff Chad Jensen, who is listed online as the association’s president, did not respond to requests for comment. The nonprofit’s vice president, Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith, declined an interview request through a spokesperson. And Scott Burns, the executive director of the Utah Sheriffs Association, also did not respond to a text message.

On a flier advertising Clarke as the keynote speaker, the Utah Sheriffs Association wrote that “America has become increasingly divided and polarized.”

“With growing racial tension, animosity toward law enforcement professionals, government corruption, and disregard for the constitutional process, there seems to be no easy answer in sight,” it reads. “But Milwaukee County Sheriff knows where we must begin; we must stop blaming others; look at our problems with open eyes; take ownership of our family, community and country.”

Clarke did not respond to an interview request on Monday. He is scheduled to speak to Utah law enforcement on Sept. 21, with a book signing following his remarks.

Clarke resigned as Milwaukee County sheriff in 2017 for a job with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which fell through. He’s been a regular commentator on Fox News, and more recently, the right-wing cable channel Newsmax.

In the past, he has criticized the government response to the pandemic, calling COVID-19 just “the damn flu” and has referred to Planned Parenthood as “Planned Genocide.”

Clarke recently blamed the Democratic party and “woke district attorneys” for destroying “the infrastructure of public safety.”

He was named Sheriff of the Year in 2013 by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center calls an “extremist group” which “endeavors to radicalize county sheriffs across America into believing they are the ultimate law enforcement authority, able to enforce, ignore or break state and federal law as they choose.”

A law enforcement group in Oregon recently canceled a scheduled appearance by Clarke after community backlash. He was slated to be the keynote speaker at a July conference for school resource officers in Oregon, according to The Oregonian, but organizers with the Oregon School Resource Officers Association nixed him from the agenda after police reform advocates questioned why such a polarizing figure was given a public platform to speak to the police.

Clarke called this cancellation “speech suppression” during a recent Newsmax appearance.

“The thing that’s disappointing is that this school resource association, they caved,” he said. “They backed down. There’s been no bigger supporter of law enforcement in the last five to 10 years than me, and I have the scars to prove it. I would have liked these people to have stood their ground. The people who are making the noise are cop haters, anyways.”