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Buttigieg’s Justice Moves Draw Skepticism in his Hometown

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 city 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 July 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.

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 and eliminating prison for some of them, restricting solitary confinement, ending the death penalty, and abandoning mandatory-minimum sentencing.

Analysts said Buttigieg’s efforts reflected his determination to develop traction among African American voters.

But in his hometown, those efforts were received with considerable skepticism.

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

Other council members, however, welcomed Buttigieg’s pledge to equip more officers with body cameras.

“It think it’s good for the police officers, as well as the citizens,” said John Voorde.

Voorde said that many in South Bend’s black community distrust law enforcement, but he added that cops also need support.

“These guys are beleaguered and scrutinized, and yet they’re the ones we count on when we call 911.”

Census data indicate that African American citizens make up about 26 percent of South Bend’s population. Yet, the demographic comprises only 6 percent of the department’s police officers.

“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.

A report from the city’s police department compared offenses between April 2019 and April 2018. 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 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.”

Buttigieg’s ”Douglass Plan” announced Thursday also called for tightening the federal legal standard for police use of force using force and creating a nationwide database of officers fired from police departments.

Brian Demo is a TCR news intern.