Does the most prominent African-American conservative politician in Wisconsin think black people sell drugs because they’re uneducated, lazy and morally bankrupt?
Or does he think that black people who sell drugs are uneducated, lazy and morally bankrupt?
It’s time for In Context, our periodic feature that gives context to sound bites that get widespread attention.
Despite running as a Democrat, Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. is easily the most outspoken conservative black politician in the Badger State. In recent weeks, the Fox News "insider" has commented frequently on national issues, particularly those involving race.
On Nov. 17, 2015, Clarke revisited on Milwaukee radio the uneducated-lazy-morally bankrupt remarks he had made on a national podcast a few weeks earlier.
But even listeners who heard the Milwaukee interview might still differ on what Clarke meant.
So here’s a rundown on what he actually said.
Early on the morning of Nov. 17, 2015, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel posted an opinion piece by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele that cited the remarks by Clarke, a longtime political nemesis of his.
Four hours later, conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes invited Clarke on WTMJ-AM (620) to respond to Abele’s column, which was written in the context of cuts Abele is making to the Sheriff’s Office’s 2016 budget.
Under Abele's proposed spending plan, the Sheriff's Office would start the new year with a $9.8 million hole in its 2016 budget. County supervisors added $4 million when they passed the county budget and sent it back to Abele's desk. Abele vetoed the $4 million, though the County Board could vote to override the veto.
Accusing the county executive of "weaponizing the budget process," Clarke told Sykes he would sue Abele in federal court, saying Abele was "acting under the color of law to punitively stifle my freedom of expression."
Then the conversation turned to Clarke’s incendiary comments.
Sykes said the Journal Sentinel had "highlighted these comments where you say that African-Americans end up dealing drugs because they are lazy and morally bankrupt. And your critics are trying to cast that as somehow racially insensitive. Let’s talk about that. What were you saying, what did you mean and do you have any regrets about the words you used?"
"Not at all. I’ve said that before, Charlie; I think I’ve probably said that on your show. I was talking about the scourge of the black community. And I was talking about drugs being the scourge of the black community. And I said, here’s why people sell drugs in the black community -- because they’re lazy, they’re uneducated and they’re morally bankrupt. How can anybody argue about that? Who would stand up and protect a drug dealer? Who would stand up and protect the reputation?
"I’d like to hear Abele or anybody else’s version of why people peddle that poison to other human beings. It’s destroyed lives. Look at the heroin problem we have. It has destroyed motivation. It’s destroyed work ethic in the black community. White people are not selling drugs in the black community. That’s what I was talking about."
Moments later, Sykes said:
"So, this is the key point, that when you use the words lazy and morally bankrupt, you are not referring to African-Americans, you are referring to drug dealers."
"Any drug dealer. Any drug dealer, whether it be white, black, Hispanic, it doesn’t matter. They are the scourge of our communities."
We’ll close by reciting what Clarke said originally -- on the Oct. 24, 2015 edition of "The People’s Sheriff," a podcast he does on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze radio network.
Clarke spent the 40-minute podcast reading from and commenting on an opinion article published eight days earlier in the New York Times. The article, by Harvard University economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan, was headlined: "Police killings of blacks: Here is what the data say."
Near the end of the podcast, Clarke quoted the article as saying:
"With fewer job options, low-income African-Americans have been disproportionately represented in the ranks of drug sellers."
Then Clarke said:
"That’s an insult -- that you would resort to selling drugs to support yourself, as if there’s no other legal means. What about the transition job, where people used to turn? Now -- and this is what I mean when I say this dysfunctional black subculture: I can’t find a job so I’ll go out and commit crime."
Clarke then briefly quoted another portion of the article before saying:
"Let me tell you why blacks sell drugs and involve themselves in criminal behavior instead of a more socially acceptable lifestyle -- because they're uneducated, they're lazy and they're morally bankrupt. That's why."
After quoting another part of the article, Clarke said:
"But let me ask this: How many black people do not use drugs, do not get arrested for drug possession? A lot. We’re talking about this small segment here as if we’re supposed to have pity -- well they can’t find a job, well, life is unfair, racism, discrimination -- B.S."
Audio recording of Charlie Sykes interview with Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., Nov. 17, 2015
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "David Clarke tops himself with latest tirade," Nov. 6, 2015
Stitcher, "The People’s Sheriff" podcast (comments at 31:30), Oct. 24, 2015