South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is facing criticism for his handling of an officer-involved shooting in his hometown.
Buttigieg — one of the 23 Democrats running for president — soared into the national spotlight after polling well in several key primary states. The mayor is one of the youngest candidates, and his political experience is limited to his time as mayor and his service in the military.
His limited experience is being tested in South Bend this week. On June 16, Eric Logan, a 54-year-old black man, was killed by a South Bend officer, escalating tensions between city officials and racial minority groups.
This situation would test the leadership of any mayor, but Buttigieg’s presidential spotlight has turned this into a test of his leadership abilities.
And from the response he’s getting from his constituents, it’s not going well. Buttigieg was torn apart during a recent town hall.
Democrat Pete Buttigieg is confronted at a town hall on a white police officer who killed a black man:
“Look at the man who’s talking to you, Peter!”
“Stop Lying! Stop lying!”
“It’s not a joke, Pete!”
“Answer The Question!”
Buttigieg just stares with a blank look on his face pic.twitter.com/aftPSZd0op
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) June 23, 2019
Citizen: "Can you say it to us today in front of all these cameras that black lives matter?"
Mayor Pete Buttigieg: "Did you just ask me if black lives matter?"
Citizen: "Yes we want to hear you say it."
— The Hill (@thehill) June 22, 2019
Buttigieg is in a tough spot because this is not the first time there has been a racially charged controversy with the police department under his watch. He also faced backlash when he fired the city’s first black police chief, Darryl Boykins, after the FBI alerted him that the chief had been wiretapping his officers.
Boykins won a racial discrimination lawsuit against the city in 2013, and the officers he allegedly spied on also won settlements from the city for invasions of privacy and defamation.
Buttigieg is being condemned for failing to deliver on the promises following Boykins’ termination, including his failure to deliver increased diversity in the department. Instead of having more diversity, the department became less diverse under the mayor’s watch.
“The effort to recruit more minority officers to the department and the effort to introduce body cameras have not succeeded and I accept responsibility for that," Buttigieg said. "We have tried but not succeeded to increase diversity in the police department and we need help."
— andrew kaczynski (@KFILE) June 24, 2019
He has also been criticized for failing to enforce a department policy that required the use of body cameras by South Bend officers.
In a “New Day” panel on CNN, Buttigieg faced criticisms from all sides for his failure to deliver on his promises following the last officer-involved shooting in South Bend. Commentator Errol Lewis called Buttigieg’s town halls a “disaster.”
“It sounded like a disaster, honestly. That you know, there was a lot of work that wasn’t done. One of the themes that kept coming up was: we’ve been through this before. You made promises to us about things that were going to change, about recruitment, about police body cameras, about more input from more parts of the community. And in point after point after point, he had to acknowledge, ‘It didn’t work out the way I had hoped. It wasn’t working out the way I had promised.’ And that has real-world effects.”
The panel did commend Buttigieg for allowing the town hall to be televised nationwide, but the compliments ended there.
It isn’t clear if this incident will have a lasting, negative impact on Buttigieg’s presidential chances, though the timing of the chaos isn’t great for the mayor, who will participate in the first Democratic primary debate later this week.
Buttigieg is currently polling in fifth place out of the 23 candidates.