Buttigieg’s Justice Moves Draw Skepticism in his Hometown

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Pete Buttigieg. Photo by Lorie Shaull via Flickr

At last month’s Democratic presidential debate, Pete Buttigieg had a sharp, candid response when he was asked why the police department in his city had not become more diverse.

“I couldn’t get it done,” said Buttigieg who was elected to a second term as mayor of South Bend, In., in 2015.

This week, Buttigieg began an uphill battle “to get it done”—and in the process, rescue his flagging presidential campaign.

He met Monday with South Bend’s Common Council and promised to step up a review of police use of body cameras, deadly force, and suspect pursuit policies, in the wake of the June 16 shooting by a white police officer of a black civilian.

And, on Thursday, he released an ambitious plan to eliminate systemic racism in the federal and state criminal justice systems, and elsewhere in the U.S. government, reported The New York Times.

The so-called Douglass plan, named after the 19th-century African-American author, former slave, and rights crusader Frederick Douglass, called for reducing sentences for many federal drug sentences, restricting solitary confinement, ending the death penalty, and abandoning mandatory-minimum sentencing, said Buttigieg’s website for political activity.

In addition, the plan called for tightening the federal legal standard for police use of force and creating a nationwide database of officers fired from police departments.

Issues and skepticism, meanwhile, linger at home while Buttigieg has been on the presidential campaign trail.

“Healing does often not take place within the political calendar,” Oliver Davis, an African-American member of the South Bend Common Council who wasn’t at the meeting with the mayor, said in an interview with The Crime Report.

Council member John Voorde, D-At large, expressed his support for body cameras to The Crime Report. “I think it’s good for the police officers, as well as the citizens.”

Although Voorde believes in the importance of accountability, he said that police officers sometimes need support and appreciation for their work in serving the community.

“These guys are beleaguered and scrutinized, and yet they’re the ones we count on when we call 9-11.”

Census data indicate that African Americans make up about 26 percent of South Bend’s population. Yet, the demographic comprises only six percent of the department’s police officers, reported The South Bend Tribune.

“To the minority community, I would say, ‘Send us your young men and women, best and brightest,’” said Voorde.

Polls showed that Buttigieg has little popularity among African Americans. A poll by The Economist indicated that only one percent of their community intend to vote for the mayor in the Democratic presidential primaries.

Concerns about rising crime are widespread.

In a report from the city’s police department, they compared offenses from April 2018 to those from April 2019. Aggravated assaults jumped by about 29 percent; larcenies by about 30 percent; and motor vehicle thefts by just over 112 percent. There was an uptick in arson as well.

Republican Common Council member Jake Teshka said the city’s police force is stretched, which could hurt officer performance.

Teshka told TCR that he wants to see crime to go down, which he said would help encourage young people to return to South Bend and invest in their community.

“I’m the father of two young children,” said Teshka. “I want them to be able to grow up, enjoy their time in South Bend, and want to stay here and raise their own families.”

Brian Demo is a TCR news intern.

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