Governor Scott Walker (R-Wis.) told Fox and Friends Tuesday morning that the comments made by Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton are making an already bad situation even worse. “I think comments like that are just inflaming the situation,” Walker said.
Speaking at a campaign rally on Monday, Clinton addressed the unrest in Milwaukee, following a police shooting and killing of a 23-year-old man. “Look at what’s happening in Milwaukee right now; we’ve got urgent work to do to rebuild trust between police and communities,” she said. “And get back to the fundamental principle: Everyone should have respect for the law and be respected by the law.” It was obvious that her remarks were intended to paint her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, as incapable of dealing with such challenges, because she added, “We need serious leadership. This is not a reality TV show,” in an obvious allusion to Trump’s highly-successful TV series, The Apprentice.
Walker (shown in red tie at an event honoring officers) activated the Wisconsin National Guard on Sunday, and several arrests have been made. Milwaukee police report that four officers were injured. A squad car was damaged by bricks, rocks, and glass bottles, of which a photograph was tweeted by the police department.
This "moral equivalence" scenario created by Clinton — that the ugly situation in Wisconsin was at least partly caused by a lack of respect for certain citizens by law enforcement — understandably angered Walker, who is left with dealing with a very difficult aftermath.
“I think people understand in that neighborhood and in Sherman Park and in Milwaukee, they want law enforcement to step up and protect them,” Walker said. “The people who live in the neighborhood want police — they want the police in Milwaukee and the sheriff’s department to step up and protect them. They didn’t want criminals who were doing those actions against those businesses to do that. And I think statements like that and the lack of leadership we have had from the president on this issue only inflame the situation.”
Violence raged in Milwaukee for two nights following the shooting and killing of 23-year-old Sylville Smith, during what began as a routine traffic stop. Smith was armed with a stolen gun at the time he was shot by a 24-year-old police officer who had six years of experience with the force. Smith and the officer are both African-American.
Captain Mark Stanmeyer of the Milwaukee Police Department said that Smith had a “lengthy arrest record.”
“That officer had to make a split-second decision when the person confronted him with a handgun. This is a risk they take every day on behalf of our community,” explained Bill Jessup, Milwaukee’s assistant police chief.
Another person who also ran from the car following the traffic stop, another 23-year-old man, was arrested.
Following the shooting, a social media effort led to a protest, which brought out around 800 people. It also led to violence and property destruction. One female officer suffered a concussion after being struck in the head with concrete, according to Ed Flynn, the police chief. Seven squad cars were damaged, three other officers were injured, and fires were reported at an O’Reilly Auto Parts store, a BMO Harris Bank location, a supermarket, a liquor store, a beauty supply store, and a BP gas station.
Milwaukee Alderman Khalif Rainey seemed to echo Clinton’s effort to place at least some blame on city government. He said, “We [interesting choice of word, almost as though he was identifying with the rioters] didn’t accomplish anything with destroying, you know, property.”
Rainey appeared to sympathize with their actions: “You know, however, I think that the conditions in this neighborhood throughout the summer have been festering, you know? It’s not just about the incident that occurred yesterday, it’s about all the incidents that occurred prior to this and a lot of city officials with laissez-faire, sitting back, you know not really, having a response. I hope if anything, this has demonstrated this community has a great need. We have a great need over here and there needs to be investment. There needs to be support. There needs to be resources that’s attributed to this neighborhood.”
Rainey called for “investment” in the community to meet the needs of the community, investment being another word for government spending. This is similar to comments made by both Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama — rioting and burning down businesses are bad, but, hey, this is what you get when you don’t spend enough money on communities, or, as they call it, “make investments.”
Rainey is just a local government official, and perhaps his comments can be overlooked. But what about the comments of Clinton and the president of the United States? For that matter, what about his record over the past several years?
A close examination of the Obama record reveals that Walker’s criticisms of him are valid. From the beginning of his administration, Obama’s words and actions have, at the very least, not been helpful when it comes to dealing with inevitable confrontations between local police and individuals in the general public.
One of the earliest indications that Obama was going to use the presidential bully pulpit to deride local law enforcement was when he made remarks critical of the Cambridge, Massachusetts police. When black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested, in what turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, Obama declared that the police had “acted stupidly.”
At the time, some police officers worried that the president’s interference in what was a local matter could make it more difficult for police relations with minority citizens. David Holway, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, made it clear that he was alarmed. “The president’s alienated public safety officers across the country with his comments.” Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas added that Obama’s comments were hurtful.
One might recall that President Richard Nixon faced criticism when he made negative comments about mass murderer Charles Manson because it might prejudice a jury. Historically, presidents have chosen to refrain from making remarks that might be construed as interference in the judicial process or local matters.
But Obama was unrepentant about his remarks, continuing to insist that the Cambridge police had indeed “acted stupidly,” and adding, “What I think we know separate and apart from this incident — is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionally, and that’s just a fact.”
Obama did not restrict his words and actions to a local incident in Cambridge. When a white police officer shot an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, Obama was quick to conclude that there must be some racial component to the incident. Later, of course, a grand jury concluded, after hearing from several witnesses, almost all African-American, that the police officer, Darren Wilson, had acted in self-defense. Even then, Obama's Justice Department began an investigation into the Ferguson police department (despite the absence of any probable cause to do so).
And then there was the situation in Baltimore. Even after the acquittal or the dropping of charges against six police officers (three of whom were black), Obama’s Justice Department has launched an investigation of Baltimore’s police department. Some believe that if there is going to be any investigation in the entire Baltimore event, the Justice Department should look into the ulterior motives of the prosecution that brought highly politicized criminal charges against the cops, without evidence of guilt.
While some have cast these events as white police versus black citizens, it is quite apparent after the Baltimore episode and the shooting in Milwaukee, that the goal is to diminish the reputation of local law enforcement across the country. In Baltimore, half the officers involved were black, and yet it was still portrayed as some sort of racial incident.
Now, in Wisconsin, we have a black police officer shooting a black man, who had a loaded stolen gun in his hand when he was shot, and Hillary Clinton’s remarks still push the narrative that this incident is just as much a problem as the actions of other, racist officers. While she did say, “Everyone should have respect for the law,” she added, “and be respected by the law.”
The best thing that Clinton could have said is nothing, leaving it for local officials to sort out. But that does not advance the goal of reducing confidence in local law enforcement so that more power can be transferred to the federal government. After all, progressives believe that living inside the Beltway automatically gives one more wisdom than living in Milwaukee, Baltimore, Cambridge, or Ferguson.
Governor Walker has every right to be angry.