After backlash, Utah sheriffs cancel polarizing ex-sheriff’s speech to law enforcement officers

This is the second time in recent months that David Clarke was canceled from a speaking engagement after community pushback.

The Utah Sheriffs Association has canceled a speech from a polarizing ex-sheriff after receiving pushback from a local NAACP leader concerned about the message David Clarke would bring to the state’s law enforcement officers.

Clarke, a former Milwaukee County sheriff, was expected to deliver the keynote speech Wednesday at the Utah sheriff’s annual conference. But Jeanetta Williams, president of the Utah chapter of the NAACP, told a Salt Lake Tribune reporter Friday evening that she spoke with the sheriff’s association and was able to have Clarke’s appearance canceled.

Williams said Monday that she made telephone calls and sent emails to the sheriffs last week to “tell them that bringing in David Clarke was the wrong thing to do.”

“It would really destroy the working relationship that the NAACP have built with law enforcement,” she said. “They agreed.”

Clarke is a controversial figure who has spoken at a QAnon convention and has shown support for the far-right militia group Proud Boys. He has called for Black Lives Matter to be considered a hate group, and refers to the organization as “Black Lies Matter.” In 2015, he called the NAACP “nothing more than a political propaganda entity for the left.”

Williams said her organization is not a “hater of police,” as Clarke has indicated, and noted it has supported law enforcement. She is currently a member of Utah’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, which certifies and sets training standards for law enforcement and takes disciplinary action against officers. Williams also has worked with Utah legislators to pass police reform bills.

The NAACP leader said she worried that having a speaker promote views like those held by Clarke to Utah’s law enforcement would damage the collaborative environment she’s worked to create to foster better policing policy in Utah.

“We’ve continued to work with law enforcement to bring the community and law enforcement together, and not dividing us,” she said. “I felt that having David Clarke speak here would really set our working efforts back.”

Williams said she appreciated that the sheriffs listened to her concerns, and were willing to take action.

Neither Cache County Sheriff Chad Jensen, president of the Utah Sheriffs Association, nor Scott Burns, its executive director, responded to a request for comment Monday, or to previous requests for comment on the decision to schedule Clarke’s appearance.

The organization has removed a flier from its website advertising Clarke’s speech, and a draft agenda which included Clarke has also been removed as of Monday morning.

Clarke did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. After The Tribune published a story last week about his upcoming appearance, Clarke wrote on Facebook: “As the liberal media tries to label people as extremists, controversial, polarizing and anything that tries to silence your voice … just remember, there’s a reason behind it! Your voice matters! NEVER be silenced. The more they try, the more you should speak.”

This is the second time in recent months that Clarke was canceled from a speaking engagement to law enforcement 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.”

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