The sheriff orchestrating law enforcement response to the uprising in Kenosha — sparked by the senseless police shooting of 29-year-old black father Jacob Blake in front of his children — is facing calls to resign from the ACLU. The civil liberties organization is blasting Sheriff David Beth for his department’s friendly rapport with white vigilantes at Tuesday’s deadly protest, and for comments the sheriff made in 2018, in which he railed against a crew of black alleged shoplifters, calling for the “the garbage people that fill our communities” to be “warehoused” in inhumane conditions, until “they’ve perished in these buildings.”
“You have to wash your hands of these people,” Beth said. “There’s some people that aren’t worth saving.”
Beth is one of the longest-serving and most powerful law enforcement figures in Wisconsin. The Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department describes itself as the third-largest law enforcement agency in the state. First elected in 2002, Beth is in his fifth term. On Tuesday night, law enforcement members in sheriff vehicles were recorded thanking armed, white vigilantes for their presence in the streets and even offering them bottled water. One of these armed individuals, Kyle Rittenhouse, has been charged with first degree murder for two killings on the street that night. The ACLU’s demand for Beth’s resignation blasts his sheriff’s deputies who “allowed the shooter to leave the scene.”
Sheriff David Beth's deputies not only socialized with white supremacist counter-protestors on Tuesday but allowed the shooter to leave the scene.
Sheriff Beth also previously called for five people of color who had been arrested for shoplifting to 'be put into warehouses.'
— ACLU (@ACLU) August 27, 2020
National scrutiny of Beth’s performance in response to the Kenosha uprising against institutional racism has prompted a reexamination of his 2018 comments, made in a press conference after a car-full of black individuals allegedly shoplifted $6,000 worth of Tommy Hilfiger apparel from the Pleasant Prairie outlet mall. The suspects were apprehended after they reportedly ran a red light causing a car crash.
The episode spurred Sheriff Beth to launch into a self-described “rant,” for which he would ultimately apologize after meeting with leaders of the local NAACP.
In his remarks, Beth called for life imprisonment for people like the alleged shoplifters “that are cancer to our society.” With an argument that veered toward eugenics, Beth made it clear that his purpose was to prevent this class of “garbage” people from reproducing. “Let’s let’s stop them from truly, at least some of these males going out and getting 10 other women pregnant and having small children,” he said.
Beth sometimes used the term “jail,” but made plain he had a crueler, more unusual facility in mind: “These people have to be warehoused,” he said. “No recreational time in the jails.” The purpose? “We put them away for the rest of their lives so that the rest of us can be better.” Beth insisted the investment in these facilities would pay dividends in public safety, and that “after this generation is gone — they’ve perished in these buildings — we can turn them into something else. Maybe it’ll be malls, maybe Amazon will buy them as warehouses later.”
Beth’s rhetoric veered toward something unspeakably dark: “We have to get rid of this group of people,” he said. Beth insisted his beliefs were widely shared. “I’m tired of being politically correct. I don’t think I’m saying anything different than most people in society aren’t thinking, but they’re afraid to say it. And I’m just to the point that I’m saying.” While Beth’s vitriol was directed at a group of black suspects, he took pains to add, “I don’t care what race, don’t care how old they are. If there’s a threshold that they cross, these people have to be warehoused.”
You can watch selections from Beth’s speech in the video below.
These are some of the most shocking comments I've ever heard from an American in law enforcement. From Kenosha Sheriff David Beth in 2018. pic.twitter.com/cmwvGMbCKy
— Tim Dickinson (@7im) August 27, 2020
Beth’s full press conference from that day can be seen here:
Beth’s comments sparked a minor scandal at the time, which led Best to pen an open letter of apology. “My comments,” he wrote, “did not necessarily live up to even my own expectations for my office.” Yet even in this letter, Best’s mea culpa was hedged. “The interesting part of this entire situation is I have received comments both in support of what I said and also not in support,” he wrote. “I appreciate comments on both sides and have taken them to heart.”
He later added, in response to criticism of his apology: “Everything I basically said in the press conference is really the way I feel.“
Beth did not respond to an interview request.