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Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press
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Out on the presidential campaign trail, “Mayor Pete” has been lifted in public opinion polls and been the subject of flattering media coverage, with the smarts and charisma to potentially be the nation’s first openly gay president.
But last week, stepping off the trail to return to South Bend, Ind., in the wake of a deadly police shooting which left an African American resident of the city dead, Pete Buttigieg got a decidedly messier reception.
Buttigieg returned to the city he has led for nearly eight years after a white police officer shot and killed an African American male but did not record the incident on his police body-camera.
Although Buttigieg held a town hall-style meeting with South Bend residents to address the matter, the young mayor received quite a bit of angry blowback, exposing a tangible rift between the presidential candidate and his own African American community.
“How are we supposed to trust this? Mayor, when that young man got killed, run over at the stop light, what did you say? What did you say, mayor? You dang near blamed him,” one black resident told Buttigieg. “How are we supposed to trust you? And you done partnered with a lot of the stuff we done did with my organization. I understand that. But when you mess up, we have to call that out, too. When the city mess up, we have to call that out, too. And our people is hurt. Dr. King said, everybody out here want to be Martin Luther King scholars.
“I’m not encouraging a riot, but these people [are] unheard. That’s why you’re getting the reaction you’re getting,” that resident added. “Stop telling people, ‘Shut up.’ Stop telling people how to feel because you’re not feeling the same way we feeling. I’ve been fighting the same fight with these people six years.”
Some residents became incensed when Buttigieg’s staff told them to be mindful of the mayor’s time. The following day, Buttigieg flew to rejoin the presidential race with scheduled remarks at the South Carolina Democrats’ convention.
That next day, in the early-decision state of South Carolina, Buttigieg chose to address the controversy roiling back home.
“We’re living through this right now in South Bend where our whole community is grieving in the wake of a police shooting that claimed the life of a black man in our city,” he told Palmetto State Democrats. “And while the facts are still coming in on what happened, one of the reasons why we’re all in so much pain is not just the anguish of a family, but it’s the anguish of a community that knows what is at stake in police, that knows the burden that lies over every community due to the fact that through our history, many of the worst moments in racial injustice in this country were served up at the hands of law enforcement.”