When an African-American tea party congressman held a “conservative black forum” on Capitol Hill on Jan. 23, 2012, the Milwaukee County sheriff was among the dozen panelists.

David A. Clarke Jr. told the host, U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Florida, and a national C-SPAN audience about the woes of Wisconsin’s largest city.

“I come from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city with a lot of issues, a lot of issues,” Clarke said in his opening remarks.

Then he rattled off a set of startling statistics:

“Fifty-five percent black male unemployment. Truancy rate of sixty percent—sixty percent of students in the Milwaukee Public Schools system do not attend school regularly. They only graduate fifty percent of the students that do, and when they come out of there the diploma is not worth the paper that it’s written on, and they probably can’t even read it. We have the worst fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores in the nation. We lead in infant mortality rate and I could go on and on and on.”

Clarke is a Democrat in a largely Democratic county, but he is an outspoken conservative who often speaks bluntly about issues outside of law enforcement.

So is the Milwaukee area really as bleak as the sheriff paints it? We’ll look at each of the five parts of Clarke’s claim: Unemployment, truancy, graduation rate, reading scores and infant mortality.

Clarke’s spokeswoman, Fran McLaughlin, confirmed that Clarke was speaking about African-Americans, rather than the total population, with the statistics he cited. {snip}

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Clarke was correct in two parts of his claim: Black Milwaukee Public Schools students have a 60 percent truancy rate and Milwaukee has one of the higher black infant mortality rates among U.S. cities.

Clarke was wrong in two parts. He overstated unemployment among black males in metro Milwaukee, which was 29.5 percent in 2010, and he understated the graduation rate among black MPS students; it is nearly 60 percent.

On the remaining part of the claim, reading scores among black MPS students were nearly the worst among 20 school districts in a study. But that doesn’t mean they were the worst in the nation, which is what Clarke said.

On balance, we rate Clarke’s statement Half True.

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