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Thousands converged upon the streets of Milwaukee on Monday to protest a controversial local sheriff who is not only aggressively advocating an immigration policy that authorizes local law enforcement to act as federal immigration agents, but also faced sharp criticism for the death of a man who died in his custody after not getting water for a week.
And on Monday afternoon, as protesters gathered at a Milwaukee courthouse, a jury recommended charging seven jail staffers with abuse of an inmate in the April 24, 2016 death of 38-year-old Terrill Thomas, the Associated Press reported.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm would formally charge the five officers and two supervisors.
The protesters had come by the hundreds on buses from at least twelve cities around the Badger State as a part of the "Day Without Latinos, Immigrants & Refugees," a statewide movement in conjunction with the May 1st national day of resistance for immigrant and worker rights.
But the day was not just about immigrant rights, it was about human rights, said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights group that organized the protest.
At issue were questionable policies under tough-talking Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who was in charge of Thomas when he died of dehydration after being kept in solitary confinement for seven days without water in April of 2016.
An inquest into Thomas’ death found two other inmates were also denied water in Clarke's jail, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal.
“It’s important for people to be aware of the human rights abuses of Sheriff Clarke and the deaths in jail,” she said. “This is someone who shouldn’t be given power because it will be abused,” Neumann-Ortiz said wh is calling upon Wisconsin governor Scott Walker to remove Clarke.
The lawyer representing Thomas' family spoke at the march Monday
Prosecutors need to make sure the "Clarke administration does not torture" anyone in custody, said attorney Walter Stern to a crowd of thousands. "That means you don't take a mentally ill person, whether he or she is a minority, a white, a green person, a blue person or a Hispanic person and torture them," he said.
Clarke has also been called out for his aggressive push to partner with the Department of Homeland Security under the agency's 287(g) policy.
The policy would turn his local officers into immigration agents to help in the government's aggressive effort to crack down and round up undocumented immigrants.
The ACLU deemed 287(g) a “civil rights abuse” that has “led to illegal racial profiling," said Chris Rickerd, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union's National Political Advocacy Department. "The horrific record of Clarke's jail shows that DHS has failed to look closely at this applicant it wants to partner with," he said.
Clarke, who is being considered for a top spot in the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Partnership and Engagement, according to Politico, faced similar criticism and protest march in Wisconsin in February.
“This man has no regard for any life,” said Kylie Herrerra, who traveled from Madison, Wisconsin for the march. “He lets people die in his custody, and he wants to round people up based on their race to do God knows what them,” she said.
“Clarke does not represent the community, he doesn't represent what we believe, he only represents his own values,” said Felix Cascelanos, who participated in the march. “He needs to read the Constitution,” he said.
Demonstrates chanted “Hey hey ho ho Sheriff Clarke has got to go!” and “Stay Alive, Stay Here, Immigrants are Welcome Here!” as they flooded streets carrying signs reading “Arrest Clarke!”
More than 150 businesses, including about 100 in Milwaukee, across the state kept their doors closed Monday in support of the movement, said organizers on Monday.
Several area schools also participated by staging mass walkouts during classes to join the march.
"This is not about one person or one group, it's about all of us. We all have a right to live our lives in peace," said Lorie Falcon, who participated in the march. "I hope Sheriff Clarke sees this and understands that we will not let him get away with things so easily," she said.