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Photos: May Day Marchers in Milwaukee Target Sheriff Clarke

Thousands of people taking part in an annual May Day rally in Milwaukee focused their attention Monday on Sheriff David Clarke. Several inmates have died while in his care at the Milwaukee County Jail. An inquest jury recommended late Monday that the district attorney file criminal charges against seven jail staffers. The sheriff was not targeted, but the deaths are not the only reason marchers are upset with Clarke.

Organizers hold the annual May Day march in cities across the country to call for better pay and working conditions, particularly for immigrant workers. In Milwaukee, organizers call the event A Day Without Latinos, and some businesses close so their workers may participate.

However on Monday, the rally took on a narrower focus. When the marchers arrived at the courthouse, organizer Christine Neumann-Ortiz took to the bullhorn. She says what concerns her, at this time, is that the sheriff reportedly is up for a job in the federal Dept. of Homeland Security.

“Clarke is being considered for a position in the Trump Administration to be the point of contact for all police and all sheriffs and we are here to expose his record of human rights abuses and to say, Clarke needs to go,” Neumann-Ortiz says.

The inquest into the jail death of Terrill Thomas did not target the sheriff, yet Neumann-Ortiz says she won’t be satisfied until Clarke is found culpable. He runs the jail.

Credit Michelle Maternowski
287(g) is a federal program Sheriff Clarke applied for. The program trains deputies on how to identify and detain immigrants who may be in the country illegally.

Marcher Nicolasa Martinez says elected leaders need to respect people’s rights. “We are all humans. We need to be treated equally, no matter what race, blood, color."

While some people are calling for the sheriff to step down or for Gov. Walker to remove him from office, Jim Cusack thinks people should wait, and vote on the job he’s been doing.

“Elections have consequences and the man is elected, and I don’t agree with his braggadocious way but there’s an election coming up and he will stand for election,” he says.

The election for Milwaukee sheriff is in 2018. Kiara Caldwell of Milwaukee says she wouldn’t be surprised if Clarke loses his title.

“Because he’s in the wrong and when people do unkind things and let unkind things happen in their prisons and don’t do their job and spend more time on TV than on doing their actual job, they will be held accountable,” she says.

Caldwell says she’s upset the sheriff has applied for federal 287 (g) status. If approved, national authorities would train Milwaukee deputies to act as immigration agents. Sheriff Clarke has said his job is to uphold the law, and that could mean detaining people who have come to the U.S. illegally.

Credit Michelle Maternowski
The May Day marches gathered at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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