Tag Archives: David Clarke

State rep. wants Clarke removed from sheriff’s office

State Rep. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee, is calling for the immediate removal of David Clarke from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s office.

Crowley, chair of the Milwaukee legislative delegation, sent the following letter to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker:

The duty bestowed upon law-enforcement officers is to protect and serve. Unfortunately, that is not what the Sheriff of Milwaukee County is most concerned with. Today I call on you to remove Sheriff David Clarke from office for his willful neglect of duties, repeated inappropriate and incendiary comments, his promotions of violence, and use of intimidation against innocent civilians.

Since April of 2016, four people, including a newborn baby, have died at the Milwaukee County Jail under the supervision of Sheriff Clarke. The Jail is woefully understaffed due to a high rate of jail staff turnover, as well as a lack of adequate training and supervision. In November, a court-ordered monitor of the jail reported that the previous three deaths all came from mistakes in medical care and/or poor monitoring of vulnerable inmates. Yet still in public, Sheriff Clarke has remained remarkably silent regarding the deaths and staffing concerns. Instead, behind closed doors, he took to verbally threatening the Milwaukee County Chief Medical Examiner over the information that he had made public regarding these deaths.

Those are not the only inappropriate comments that Sheriff Clarke has made recently. He has used the official website and Facebook page of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office to personally attack and intimidate his opponents and accusers. He has used racial slurs such as calling an African-American commentator a “jigaboo.” Further, he has repeatedly threatened or insinuated violence, recently claiming that if people “messed with him” they would get “knocked out.”

This last statement was made in response to a new complaint filed against Clarke by a Milwaukee resident who claims he was unlawfully detained, interrogated, and escorted out of Mitchell Airport because he shook his head at the Sheriff while on a flight home. After the incident, the Sheriff took to Facebook to taunt and intimidate the individual. He posted a picture of the individual with the statement “Cheer up snowflake. If Sheriff Clarke were to really harass you, you wouldn’t be around to whine about it”.

The comments and actions of the Sheriff are completely unacceptable for any public official and constitute a cause for removal from office. I call on you to remove David Clarke from his position as Milwaukee County Sheriff immediately. The people deserve a Sheriff who is committed to protect and serve, not one committed to threaten and intimidate. The time for action is now.


Representative David Crowley

Also see: Sheriff David Clarke has cost taxpayers over $400,000 for lawsuits


Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke could head Homeland Security

Donald Trump met with Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke at Trump Tower Monday afternoon, presumably to discuss tapping Clarke for a position in his administration. Insiders say the bizarre head of Milwaukee County law enforcement is under consideration to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Like Trump, Clarke is a lightning rod of the radical right who is known nationally for his history of making shocking statements and engaging in outrageous behavior.

Although Clarke runs as a Democrat, his right-wing Republican beliefs are known nationwide. He addressed the Republican National Convention over the summer with a fiery conservative speech that  drew a standing ovation. Clarke is a frequent guest on Fox News and a well-known personality on right-wing talk radio. He has his own program on The Blaze network that’s called The People’s Sheriff.

In October, when it seemed as if Trump would lose his race against Hillary Clinton, Clarke urged his Twitter followers to take up their “pitchforks and torches” against her in case she won.

Clarke, who is African American, frequently blasts Black Lives Matter as a “vile” and “slimy” racist group. He condemns what he calls the “ghetto” culture of African-American neighborhoods in the inner city.

Clarke sets himself apart from other urbanites — both black and white — by degrading blacks and often appearing in public wearing cowboy boots and a 10-gallon cowboy hat. The costume matches his John Wayne-style tough talk, including the boast that he’d increase Gitmo’s population to 1 million as Secretary of Homeland Security.

Clarke provides cover for the racist right wing of the Republican Party, wrote Congresswoman Gwen Moore in an op-ed.

“It’s clear that Fox News and Sheriff Clarke have developed a symbiotic relationship,” Moore wrote. “He needs the cable news network for its national platform; Fox needs a black sheriff to give voice to the dog-whistle narratives its anchors dare not vocalize themselves.”

Also like Trump, Clarke is well known for his temper tantrums and unfiltered remarks. Using a school-boy insult later borrowed by Trump, Clarke once questioned the size of Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s genitalia.

Clarke was widely criticized for cutting security for President Obama when he visited Milwaukee. After one of his budget requests was denied, Clarke asked Milwaukee County citizens to take up arms and essentially become vigilantes to help his understaffed squad of deputies enforce the law. At the same time, his deputies were conducting sting operations to entrap gay men on sexual charges in public parks.

Clarke has a penchant for filing frivolous right-wing lawsuits that amuse his white, suburban Republican base but have cost county taxpayers over $400,000.

But there have also been numerous lawsuits filed against him. The latest prospective suit comes from Shadé Swayzer, the mother of a newborn who died in Milwaukee County Jail last July.

Swayzer’s lawyer wrote that she told a corrections officer she was going into labor around midnight, but that the officer laughed and ignored her, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office contends that Swayzer never told jail staff she was going into labor. The company responsible for medical care at the jail has said Swayzer’s child was stillborn.

But Swayzer insists her child was “born alive, cried profusely and was breastfed.”

The infant was one of four people who’ve died in a Milwaukee County jail cell since April — and one of 12 who’ve died there since he took office. In September, a man died of dehydration in the jail after guards ignored his pleas for water.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Supreme Moore Omokunde has called for Clarke’s resignation over the deaths.

“The simple fact that four deaths have occurred in a six month period under his watch demonstrates that Sheriff David Clarke is unfit to manage the Milwaukee County Jail,” Omokunde said. “Media reports and the statements of witnesses indicate that at least three of the deaths appear to have occurred as a result of actions or inaction by Sheriff Clarke’s corrections officers.  Yet not a single officer has been disciplined, and Sheriff Clarke remains silent. This is totally unacceptable.

“Accountability starts at the top. Sheriff Clarke has failed to establish a culture of professionalism, has failed to call for independent investigations when warranted, and he has abdicated his responsibility to hold his officers accountable for their actions or lack of action. He should resign immediately.”

For all of these reasons,, Clarke will face a contentious battle for confirmation by the Senate, if Clarke should nominate him for a cabinet-level position.

“David Clarke is extremist, bombastic and incompetent at his job,” said Scot Ross, executive director of the progressive group One Wisconsin Now.

“David Clarke with his speeches filled with bombast, childish insults and advocacy for Tea Party extremism aren’t making anyone safer,” Ross continued. “His actions and his rhetoric are Exhibit A of the dangerous extremism being abided by the leaders of today’s Republican Party.”


Woman whose newborn died in Sheriff David Clarke’s jail to file lawsuit

The mother of a newborn who died in Milwaukee County Jail last July has filed a claim notice against the  office of Sheriff David Clarke that holds  jail staffers responsible for the death.

Shadé Swayzer’s lawyer, Jason Jankowski, wrote that Swayzer told a corrections officer she was going into labor around midnight, but that the officer laughed and ignored her, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The notice of claim, which generally gives agencies a chance to respond to allegations before a lawsuit is filed, says Swayzer is seeking $8.5 million in damages.

The infant was one of four people who’ve died in a Milwaukee County jail cell since April. In September, a man died of dehydration in the jail after guards ignored his pleas for water

The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office said Swayzer never told jail staff she was going into labor. The company responsible for medical care at the jail has said Swayzer’s child was stillborn.

However Swayzer has claimed her child was “born alive, cried profusely and was breastfed.”

An autopsy was conducted on the infant, but results have not yet been released.

Sheriff’s officials have refused to provide details about the death, and a spokeswoman for Sheriff David Clarke said the office would have no further comment.

Clarke, a lightning rod of the radical right, has a history of making shocking statements and performing bizarre acts. He’s blasted Black Lives Matter as a racist group and, using a school-boy insult that was later borrowed by Donald Trump, accused Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele — his political nemesis — of having a small penis. Clarke was widely criticized for cutting security for President Obama when he visited Milwaukee. After one of his budget requests was denied, Clarke asked Milwaukee County citizens to take up arms and help his deputies.

Clarke has a penchant for filing frivilous lawsuits that amuse his white, suburban Republican base but that have cost county taxpayers over $400,000.

Multiple sources report that Clarke, who campaigned strongly for Trump, is under consideration for a job in Donald Trump’s administration, possibly as head of Homeland Security.

Endorsement: Milwaukee needs DA John Chisholm

(UPDATED: Additional endorsements added at the bottom.]

The Wisconsin Gazette strongly supports John Chisholm for re-election as Milwaukee County District Attorney. He has served the community well, and is widely considered one of the best district attorneys in the nation. Chisholm’s “public health” approach to crime prevention is becoming a national model. The New Yorker featured Chisholm in a laudatory 2015 article titled, “The Milwaukee Experiment.”

As part of his strategy, Chisholm helped spearhead creation of the $21 million Sojourner Family Peace Center. It brings together a wide array of partners, including his office, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Public Schools, Jewish Family Services and the Milwaukee Police Department to provide intervention services —including shelter, child protection and core health and legal services — for people at risk of becoming part of the revolving door of violence in underprivileged communities.

But a district attorney who does a good job invariably makes some enemies. As Milwaukee County’s chief prosecutor, John Chisholm has made some big ones.

First and foremost among them are Scott Walker supporters, especially wealthy dark-money groups. Chisholm irked them by going after their efforts to circumvent election laws.

When independent John Doe investigations found evidence of illegal electioneering by Walker’s staff in the Milwaukee County Executive’s office, Chisholm took a big political risk by agreeing to prosecute. He took an even greater risk by joining with a bipartisan group of DAs in a second John Doe case that uncovered what was then illegal coordination of dark money groups with Walker’s campaign. The state’s Supreme Court, led by justices who had taken huge amounts of money from those same groups, retroactively changed the law and threw out the case.

Now the corrupt dark-money groups are out for revenge by trying to knock Chisholm out of office in a low-turnout Aug. 9 primary election. They’ve chosen Verona Swanigan, an attorney with no prosecutorial experience and not much of a trial-court record, to face off against Chisholm.

Swanigan is a goofy fake Democrat in the mold of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. There are differences: Clarke dresses up like a cowboy, while Swanigan barely dressed for the cover of her book of erotic poetry. And unlike Clarke, who’s prone to lunatic rants laced with Trump-style insults — he once accused Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele of penis envy — Swanigan possesses great personal charm.

But like the sheriff, she’s supported by local right-wing radio. And also like him, she claims to be a “conservative democrat,” even though her campaign is backed financially by Koch-brothers’ operatives, in her case Craig Peterson.

Swanigan won’t talk to the press or debate Chisholm for the obvious reason that she knows nothing about the job, which involves overseeing a massive bureaucracy and 125 assistant district attorneys. She’s probably not too keen on having to discuss her pro-Walker supporters, either.

Swanigan’s backers are apparently using her race — she’s African American — to tap into some of the black community’s anger with Chisholm for not prosecuting Christopher Manney and others. Manney was the Milwaukee police officer who shot to death Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed, schizophrenic black man in Red Arrow Park two years ago. Chisholm concluded that the law did not support filing charges.

That case notwithstanding, Chisholm embodies the creativity, skill, dedication and integrity that every community longs to have at the helm of its district attorney’s office. Make certain that we keep him in office by voting Chisholm on Aug. 9.

See also:

Rep. Mandella Barnes for 4th Senate District

State Rep. LaTonya Johnson for 6th Senate District

Edgar Lin for 16th Assembly District

Endorsement: Marisabel Cabrera is best choice for 9th Assembly District

David Crowley for 17th Assembly District

Endorsements from Planned Parenthood, Fair Wisconsin and Voces de la Frontera

David Clarke, Scott Walker, Paul Ryan listed as convention speakers

The CEO of the Republican National Convention on July 14 released a partial list of the speakers who will participate in the weeklong event in Cleveland, which starts July 18.

The announcement said the convention’s theme, “Make America Great Again,” will focus on the core themes of Donald J. Trump’s campaign: national security, immigration, trade and jobs.

The list includes, in alphabetical order:

Pastor Mark Burns
Phil Ruffin
Congressman Ryan Zinke
Pat Smith
Mark Geist
John Tiegen
Congressman Michael McCaul
Sheriff David Clarke
Congressman Sean Duffy
Darryl Glenn
Senator Tom Cotton
Karen Vaughn
Governor Mike Huckabee
Mayor Rudy Giuliani
Melania Trump
Senator Joni Ernst
Kathryn Gates-Skipper
Marcus Luttrell
Dana White
Governor Asa Hutchinson
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge
Michael Mukasey
Andy Wist
Senator Jeff Sessions
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
Alex Smith
Speaker Paul Ryan
Congressman Kevin McCarthy
Kerry Woolard .
Senator Shelley Moore Capito
Dr. Ben Carson
Co-Chair Sharon Day
Natalie Gulbis
Kimberlin Brown
Antonio Sabato, Jr.
Peter Thiel
Eileen Collins
Senator Ted Cruz

Newt Gingrich

Michelle Van Etten
Lynne Patton
Eric Trump
Harold Hamm
Congressman Chris Collins
Brock Mealer
Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn
Governor Mary Fallin
Darrell Scott
Lisa Shin
Governor Rick Scott
Chairman Reince Priebus
Tom Barrack
Ivanka Trump
Attorney General Pam Bondi
Jerry Falwell Jr.
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein
Chris Cox
Senator Mitch McConnell
Tiffany Trump
Governor Chris Christie
Donald J. Trump Jr.
Governor Scott Walker

Sheriff David Clarke’s lawsuits have cost taxpayers over $400,000

Milwaukee County has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past several years to cover the legal costs of lawsuits brought by the notorious county sheriff.

A federal judge this week tossed out Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s lawsuit against County Executive Chris Abele. Clarke alleged that Abele violated his right to free speech by using the budget process to punish Clarke and others who say things Abele disagrees with.

County taxpayers will now have to pick up the $50,000 tab for Clarke’s private attorney, Michael A.I. Whitcomb, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The county has already paid Whitcomb more than $260,000 to represent the sheriff in litigation against the county since 2012. The county itself has paid $83,000 defending itself in these lawsuits.

Altogether, the county has spent over $346,000 for the sheriff to sue the county. With the latest lawsuit, that figure will top $400,000.

“Public safety is too important to Milwaukee families for us to continually waste time and money on lawsuits like this,” said Melissa Baldauff, a spokeswoman for Abele.

Clarke said he has not read the decision in the latest lawsuit, but he had sharp words for Abele. The sheriff did not say if he plans to appeal the decision.

“Abele is the guy who spent $263,000 of his personal wealth trying to defeat me in my last election and he lost,” Clarke said in a statement. “He continues his vendetta by trying to silence me. That little man will stop at nothing.”

Clarke is a darling of right-wing talk radio in Milwaukee and the surrounding deep-red suburbs. He frequently makes national headlines for his over-the-top antics, such as his saying that blacks sell drugs because they’re “lazy” and “morally bankrupt.” He also asked Milwaukee County residents to arm themselves to help his deputies.

Clarke, who often wears a cowboy hat and boots, is African American.

In the run-up to Wisconsin’s presidential primaries, social justice groups Voces de la Frontera and the Coalition for Justice circulated a petition calling for a law enforcement official other than Clarke to oversee public safety at Trump events in the Milwaukee area. In early March, Clarke told a Fox News host that demonstrators with immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter movements deserve to be “hit first and hit hard.”

Last June, Judge David Borowski ordered Clarke to provide un-redacted information about people his department turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. The order was made in an open records lawsuit filed by Voces de la Frontera.

Milwaukee sheriff must release immigration detainer forms

A Wisconsin appeals court on April 12 ruled that Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke must release un-redacted immigration detainer forms for jail prisoners.

The ruling was on a freedom of information request filed by the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera. The organization requested copies of federal immigration detainer forms more than a year ago from the sheriff.

Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke. — PHOTO: Courtesy
Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke. — PHOTO: Courtesy

The sheriff released 12 forms with redacted information. Clarke maintains that federal law prohibits his agency from releasing the complete records.

The immigrant rights group sued, demanding Clarke provide clean copies of the documents.

A Milwaukee judge ordered the release of the documents and this week the district court ordered the release, within 48 hours.

In a statement, Voices de la Frontera attorney Peter Earle said, “”This ruling reaffirms the right of Voces de la Frontera under Wisconsin’s open records law to monitor Sheriff Clarke to make sure he does not engage in improper immigration enforcement activity. It is a clear victory for Wisconsin’s immigrant community.”

Voces executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz added, “This is a victory for open government and democracy and the immigrant rights movement. Sheriff Clarke can no longer carry out deportations in secret. We will now obtain information regularly to hold Clarke accountable for his deportations and ensure he is respecting new federal enforcement priorities. We never should have had to go to these lengths to obtain such basic information. Clarke should be ashamed for wasting taxpayer dollars on lawyers to try to keep indefensible deportations secret. It also underlines the need for local law enforcement to not be collaborating in deportations with federal immigration authorities because it discourages immigrants from reporting crimes.”

On the Web…

To read the order, click here.


Petition opposes Sheriff Clarke’s policing at Trump protests

Milwaukee social justice advocates don’t want Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke handling policing at political events for Donald Trump.

Clarke, earlier this month, told a Fox News host that demonstrators with immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter movements deserve to be “hit first and hit hard.”

Now the social justice groups Voces de la Frontera and the Coalition for Justice are circulating a petition calling for a law enforcement official other than Clarke to oversee public safety at Trump events in the Milwaukee area.

“Sheriff Clarke’s violent rhetoric endangers public safety, and his comments targeting immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter supporters completely disqualify him from having anything to do with protecting the public at Trump events,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera. “Clarke is inciting the racist violence that has shocked the country at Trump’s rallies. We urge local authorities in the areas where Trump holds events to ensure that Clarke and the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office are not in charge of protecting public safety, given his incendiary comments. We call on local authorities to establish a plan to prevent racial profiling and violence at Trump events to protect the people’s constitutional right to protest.”

The petition, addressed to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, states, “Sheriff Clarke’s inflammatory statements encourage violence and put Milwaukee County residents at risk. Given his comments that Trump supporters should “hit first and hit hard,” we have no confidence in his ability to protect public safety.

Please ban the Sheriff from policing any Trump events and protests in the area and implement a plan to prevent profiling and violence against protesters.”

An explanation with the petition reads, “We already face one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates, a new round of anti-immigrant legislation, and we are still mourning Dontre Hamilton’s murder. Donald Trump’s The last thing we need is a Sheriff instigating violence and further harming our communities.:

On the Web …

‘Hit first and hard’ video.

The petition online.

Judge orders Milwaukee County Sheriff to turn over records to immigrant rights group

Judge David Borowski on June 3 ordered Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. to provide un-redacted information about people his department turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation.

The order was made in an open records lawsuit filed by Voces de la Frontera.

And, according to the immigrant rights group, Clarke must respond to the order within 48 hours.

Borowoski, according to Voces, cited Wisconsin’s long history of government in the sunshine, with blue-sky laws that favor citizens’ ability to review the actions of government officials.

Voces de la Frontera filed an open records request with the sheriff’s office in February. The group was seeking copies of forms I-247s from ICE asking local jails to hold people otherwise set for release for possible deportation. Voces said the program, Secure Communities, was ended by the Department of Homeland Security’s security last fall.

The sheriff’s office did not turn over the forms promptly. And, when Voces challenged the department, it received records with critical information redacted. Voces said that information would have shown whether the sheriff was complying with new enforcement policies.

“So many people get detained and placed in deportation and no one knows about it,” said Antonio Ávila, a Voces de la Frontera member. “Now we will know who these people are, we will be able to contact them to support them and their families, and to help them fight their deportation. As an immigrant I feel safer now.”

“This is a victory for the people of Wisconsin and immigrant families in particular,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera. “For too long, Sheriff Clarke has shown a glaring disregard for the rights and dignity of immigrant families in our community. He will no longer be able to carry out what have been up to now secret deportations without community oversight and accountability. This information is part of our civil rights organizing to hold Sheriff Clarke accountable to the rights of immigrants, identify and reach out to individuals impacted by these laws to bring their story to light and fight their deportation, and go to court if necessary.”

She continued,  “This type of community oversight should expand to other counties in Wisconsin. We believe that Immigration should not be entangled with local law enforcement because it violates people’s civil rights and discourages immigrants from reporting crimes,” continued Neumann-Ortiz. “Even so, we know there will be further changes under these new national enforcement priorities, and immigrant community organizations need to have a voice at the table when local law enforcement meets with ICE about these changes.”

At home and abroad, rising tensions over Israel’s Gaza incursion spark acts of hate

Last month Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke asked for the public’s help in monitoring suspicious activity around religious sites. He had good reason.

“With the heightened tensions and military activity occurring in and around Israel and the Gaza strip, there is the potential that local agitators will seize upon the current climate to opportunistically attack religious sites, including synagogues, temples and mosques, and deface or vandalize them under the guise of legitimate protest,” Clarke wrote in a press release.

In Europe, and less frequently in the United States,  numerous such instances have occurred. Meanwhile, Arab World Fest returns to Milwaukee’s Summerfest Grounds on the weekend of Aug. 8–10, and the Jewish High Holidays, which routinely present heightened security challenges, begin on Sept. 24. This confluence of events raises concerns.

Adding to those concerns in Milwaukee is an unfortunate anniversary: On Aug. 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page fatally shot six people and wounded four others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek. In other American cities, such attacks have been undertaken by racists who’ve confused Sikhs with Muslims, although there’s no evidence that’s what motivated Page. 

As WiG headed to press, Milwaukee Police Department spokesman Mark Stanmeyer said there have not been any reported crimes in the city related to the conflict in Gaza. But he said law enforcement authorities throughout the area remain vigilant.

“The Milwaukee Police Department, through its Southeastern Wisconsin Threat Analysis Center, works with federal partners to assess potential threats to special events,” Stanmeyer said via email. “I’m not aware of any planned increase in Milwaukee Police resources as a result of recent events.”

Vicious verbal attacks on both Jews and Muslims have spiked recently on local social media pages. “It’s the usual heartbreaking, hateful drivel” about Jews “running the media, controlling people, using power for deleterious ends, etc.,” said Elana Kahn-Oren, director of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council. “Thank goodness we’ve not experienced vandalism or physical attacks like other communities, including Chicago.”

In Chicago, anti-Semitic leaflets were left on cars in a North Side Jewish neighborhood on July 20. In Miami, a synagogue was vandalized with anti-Semitic slurs and cars owned by Jews have been egged. Vandals in Philadelphia spray-painted hate symbols on a local synagogue. 

In recent weeks, many Madison and Milwaukee-area Jewish congregations have held services and rallies to show solidarity with Israel. On July 27, a rally at Milwaukee’s Congregation Shalom drew 800 pro-Israel demonstrators and a group of about 200 counter protesters, who hurled anti-Semitic epithets at ralliers, according to the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. Protesters called the supporters of Israel “animals,” according to Kahn-Oren and others. They chanted, “Hey, Yid go home,” and, “Jews and Nazis are the same, the only difference is the name!”

Pro-Palestinian sympathizers have staged protests across the state as well, including in Appleton, Racine, Madison and Milwaukee. Participants have called on Israel to end its military incursion into Gaza, which has killed more than 1,000, including many children. Pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian op-eds have flooded Wisconsin newspapers.

Like the local Jewish community, Milwaukee’s Arab community also have received taunts and insults, particularly as worshippers entered and exited area mosques during the holy month of Ramadan, which ended on July 28, said Othman Atta, executive director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee.

“We’ve had a few eggs thrown at us and people calling (by phone) and shouting profanities and so forth, but that’s been the extent of it so far,” Atta said. “There hasn’t been any kind of direct attempt to attack the mosques.”

Atta said the local Arab-American community, composed largely of people of Palestinian descent, maintains tight security around mosques and other Muslim gathering places. “We’re very careful about who has access to the center, especially during times when we have a lot of attendees,” he added.

Milwaukee’s Muslims and Jews

Muslims began to establish roots in Milwaukee during the 1950s, and today the community is about 15,000 strong, according to the most recent estimates. Wisconsin is home to 23 mosques and Islamic centers.

Suspicions toward Muslims remain strong in Wisconsin, just as they have across the nation since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Late in 2007, Milwaukee’s first Arab-American police officer sued the city on charges he was taunted and discriminated against due to anger over 9/11. Public backlash against the opening of an Islamic center in Sheboygan County in 2010 exemplified anti-Muslim sentiment. 

The Jewish community has a much longer history in Wisconsin, and several high-profile Jews have lived in the state. Among them was Golda Meir, a Ukrainian refugee who immigrated to Milwaukee, where she taught school before going on to become Israel’s fourth prime minister.

The Jewish Community Study of Greater Milwaukee 2011 found that the Jewish population of the area is about 30,000 people, including a large Russian-Jewish community on the city’s North Side. But due to growth in interfaith marriages and the backlash toward religion in general among young people, Wisconsin’s Jewish community is struggling to maintain its size and identity. Many people believe the community is shrinking.

In general, Jews and Muslims in America have been cautiously supportive of one another. As minority religious groups in a politically Christian nation, they have worked together on shared interests involving religious freedom, civil rights and immigration policy.

Relations between the two communities, however, have become increasingly strained due to the global rise of Islamic terrorism and Israel’s political turn to the hard right, which resulted in territorial aggression toward Palestinian lands and the apartheid-style treatment of Palestinians living in Israel. Interfaith programs in Wisconsin and elsewhere have become strained, according to those involved.


Around the nation and the world, the military campaign underway in Gaza has provoked a much stronger backlash than it has here in Wisconsin. In the United States, that backlash has primarily targeted Arab-Americans, while in Europe it has focused on Jews.

“The big backlash is not happening here, it’s happening in Europe, which we see every time there is trouble between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Anti-Semitism has been firmly entrenched for centuries in European societies. While many progressive Europeans oppose Israel’s treatment of Palestinians on the grounds of social injustice, many others use it as cover for anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League released a survey this year that found 34 percent of eastern Europeans and 24 of western Europeans hold anti-Semitic views. 

People in the U.S. view Israel more favorably. In the post-9/11 world, the Jewish nation is a strategic military ally in a region that’s otherwise hostile to American interests. In addition, evangelical Christians believe the second coming of Jesus is dependent on Jewish control of the Holy Land — and evangelism is far more widely embraced by Americans than Europeans.

A CNN/ORC poll conducted between July 18 and 20 found 57 percent support among Americans for Israel’s actions in Gaza. 

Europeans “don’t have the same tradition of supporting Israel that we do,” Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center, told The New York Times. “That area of the world is closer to them, and they get more exposure to Arabs and Muslims, and are more open to the Palestinian point of view.”

Anti-Semitic attacks in Europe have been rising precipitously for the past two decades. Since the Gaza conflict began, scores of European Jews have been attacked, synagogues have been firebombed, Jewish businesses, homes and neighborhoods have been vandalized and numerous demonstrations have called for “Death to the Jews,” despite the fact that a large proportion of Jews, even Israeli Jews, condemn what is occurring in Gaza. Israeli Jews have staged several large protests in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square condemning the attack on Gaza, and dozens of the protesters have been arrested.

The anti-Semitic backlash over Gaza has been the worst in France, which, in addition to its anti-Semitic tradition, also has Europe’s largest population of Muslim and Arab immigrants. But a July 29 Newsweek cover story titled “Exodus: Why Europe’s Jews Are Fleeing Once Again” reported that even Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, recorded 60 anti-Semitic incidents from 2010 to 2012, including the bombing of the local Jewish community center.

Although Malmö’s mayor blamed the acts on Zionism rather than anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, the former U.S. special envoy for combating anti-Semitism, told Newsweek that the city exemplifies the “new anti-Semitism,” which uses anti-Zionism (opposition to Israel’s existence) as a disguise for hatred of Jews. (Rosenthal is currently president and CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, but she was unavailable for comment during the week that WiG prepared this story.)

For many Jews, the escalating anti-Semitic attacks in Europe are reminiscent of the 1930s, when most of the Jews who failed to flee wound up in Nazi gas chambers. “At what point do the Jews of America and the Jews of Israel tell the Jews of Europe that it might be time to get out?” American-Jewish journalist Jeffrey Goldberg asks in the Newsweek article. 

Demystifying Islam

In America, it’s the Arab community that faces the greatest threat of a widespread backlash over Gaza. So far, violence toward Arabs hasn’t resulted in serious injuries or deaths.  But Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, described incidents such as “an  old guy getting pelted with eggs coming out of a mosque in New York” as violent attacks.

There’s certainly a large enough reservoir of hatred to fuel violence toward Muslims. Hooper and his organization regularly receive emails that make Nazi propaganda read like Hallmark cards in comparison. Hooper forwarded WiG an email he received in which the writer called for the slaughter of Muslim babies in the most brutal terms possible.

Hooper said that CAIR, which many consider a radical organization, encourages open houses at mosques and cultural events to demystify Islam and “decrease suspicion (caused by) lack of knowledge.”

Atta said that’s exactly what Arab World Fest aims to accomplish. “People go to partake in the food, customs and music,” he said. “The people who go there are pretty open-minded, and they’re there because they’re willing to learn. It’s a social time. 

“There’s a good mix of people that come in. The people that go there, they go and enjoy themselves. It’s not political or anything of that sort. It’s more entertainment in nature. There are cultural and historic dimensions, but most people go for the food and the marketplace.”

Security at the Summerfest grounds is technologically advanced and reliable, Atta adds, so no one should hesitate about attending Arab World Fest, despite what’s happening elsewhere in the world.

Meanwhile, Clarke hopes to deter small acts of hate-motivated vandalism that could lead to escalated violence.

“Nationwide, the ‘If You See Something, Say Something’ campaign has proven to be a simple and effective program to raise public awareness in helping to deter and report suspicious activity to local law enforcement authorities,” Clarke said in his press release. “Nowhere is this concept more applicable than in safeguarding our fellow citizens’ houses of assembly and worship.

“Any citizens observing suspicious activity in relation to these sites, and particularly activities occurring during off-worship times or under cover of darkness that may presage acts of vandalism, are asked to contact their local municipality’s law enforcement immediately.”
To report suspicious activity, call 414-278-4788. 

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