Is Pete Buttigieg’s Plan for Black America Too Little, Too Late?

July 17, 2019 | POLITICS
The Narrative

Last week, presidential hopeful and South Bend, Indiana Mayor, Pete Buttigieg, released the full version of his “Douglass Plan for Black America,” an 18-page document outlining the steps he will take to eradicate racial injustice in areas such as the economy, education, and the healthcare and criminal justice systems. The publication comes as “Mayor Pete’s” track record with racial tensions in his hometown continues to be scrutinized on the campaign trail due to both his rising national prominence and voters’ demand for accountability. 

At face value, the plan makes sense as the first step in a long line of reparative actions on behalf of Black Americans - that's why the lack of implementation of a similar plan in South Bend during Buttigieg’s time as mayor has left voters (and residents) wondering why they should believe in his plan now. Additionally, approaches on how to combat racism in the United States have been at the forefront of many of the other candidates’ platforms for months, so why, almost six months into his candidacy, did Buttigieg just put out his finalized plan for Black America?

It likely comes down to the importance of Black Democrats’ votes for winning the nomination. Prior to the publication of the final “Douglass Plan,” it was reported that the mayor was polling at zero among Black Democrats - a group that makes up about 20% of all Democratic voters. However, this is not the first time Buttigieg has seen a shortage of Black Democratic support: Politico found that between his 2011 mayoral election and 2015 reelection, support from primarily Black districts dropped almost 20 points. Why is a candidate who promises “true equity” for Black Americans unable to garner support from the exact community he is promising to serve? Will he ever be able to gain that support?  

Well, it depends... 

Will he break his promises to Black Americans once he gets their votes? 

That sure seemed to be the case in South Bend where Buttigieg has a history of struggling to confront racism both economically and institutionally. Shortly after being elected in 2011 on a platform that included correcting racial injustice, the mayor was put on blast for demoting Darryl Boykins, the city’s first Black chief of police. The demotion came after an FBI investigation that claimed Boykins recorded the phone calls of other officers he believed were trying to take his job. (Buttigieg was the only one aware of the investigation at the time and did not share this with Boykins until he asked for his resignation.) However, it was soon revealed that Boykins’ decision to record the calls was due to the alleged racist nature of the conversations; Buttigieg refused to release the recordings and alsorefused to listen to them for any racist remarks, stating that it would break federal law. His decision quickly angered Black constituents who felt that the tapes were crucial to proving that Boykins was a victim of racism. 

Ironically, in his “Douglass Plan,” Buttigieg clearly outlines the importance of prohibiting discrimination in the workplace.

It is difficult to overlook the mayor’s past failures in handling race-based issues in his city, but it is even more difficult when they make his presidential strategy for Black America feel somewhat hypocritical. If Mayor Pete was unable to handle a single case of racial discrimination in South Bend, how can voters expect him to handle the countless cases that happen across America every day? 

If his past with racial inequality fails to unsettle voters of all backgrounds, the convenient timing of the release of “The Douglass Plan” might. As mentioned, the publication of the strategy came shortly after the release of Buttigieg’s zero polling number among Black Democrats, but it also came almost a month after he received criticism for the fatal shooting of Eric Logan, a 54-year-old Black man, by Sgt. Ryan O’Neill, a white police officer, in South Bend. O’Neill, who has since resigned, stated that he shot Logan after he swung a knife at him while investigating a report of car-break in; however, evidence of the “knife-wielding” does not exist because O’Neill’s body camera was not activated. The implementation of body cameras has been at the center of a heated discussion throughout the United States and is even highlighted in Buttigieg’s plan: “We will bolster funding to increase the number of police departments that use body-worn cameras and develop a national analytics process for public safety processes and results.” His promise may leave South Bend residents confused (why vow to increase something you aren’t even enforcing in your hometown?), but it will surely not surprise them as his plan also promised efforts to diversify police forces across the United States to reflect the communities they protect. 

For reference: six percent of the South Bend Police Department is Black. 26 percent of the city of South Bend is Black. 

Of his failure to maintain a more diverse police department (the number of Black officers decreased from 11 percent during his two terms as mayor), Buttigieg said, “I promise you, we have tried everything we can think of.” 

It is likely that Buttigieg will head into the second Democratic debate on July 30th/31st with the hope that his promises within “The Douglass Plan” will be enough to secure the trust of Black Democrats across America, but maybe he should just hope that his promises are enough to regain the trust of those in South Bend who feel he has already broken them.

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