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Mayor Pete Buttigieg Faces Tough Questions About Race And Policing In South Bend


At a town hall meeting yesterday in South Bend, Ind., locals laid into their mayor for his handling of a fatal police shooting earlier this month.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Get the racists off the streets. It's disrespectful that I wake up every day scared.

SHAPIRO: The mayor hearing and responding to all this, of course, is Pete Buttigieg, one of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: We have tried but not succeeded to increase diversity in the police department, and we need help.

SHAPIRO: After months of generally positive attention on the campaign trail, this conflict is calling attention to Buttigieg's record on race and policing in South Bend, where he has been mayor since 2012. Lincoln Wright is a reporter who covers these issues for the South Bend Tribune. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LINCOLN WRIGHT: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: We just heard from that tape how intense emotions were at the town hall. Remind us of what the incident was that led to all of this frustration within South Bend's black community.

WRIGHT: Yeah. A white police officer shot and killed - his name was Eric Logan, an African American man, about a week ago. The officer did not activate his body camera footage, so right now, it's just his word of what actually transpired that early morning.

SHAPIRO: And part of the reason the community is so angry about this is that this is not an isolated incident. What has Mayor Pete Buttigieg's record in South Bend been in the seven years since he's become mayor on race and policing?

WRIGHT: Well, yeah. So unfortunately, this is by far not the first officer-involved incident that has caused outrage in the community over racial tension. He has often - he always, after these incidents, does speak to the community, does bring people to the table. But I think it was one of our city councilwomen at this town hall said she doesn't see anything changing.

SHAPIRO: I understand 5% of the police force is African American, compared to 25% of the population of South Bend.

WRIGHT: That is correct. Yeah, the police force is 88% white. And so they're policing a, like you said, a city population that's 20% - 26% African American.

SHAPIRO: And there was also an issue with Buttigieg dismissing the African American chief of police.

WRIGHT: He had just taken office when he did that, so - but he even has admitted that was maybe one of his first big mistakes as far as how he handled that situation.

SHAPIRO: I'd like to ask you about a quote that the former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, gave to The Daily Beast. She's from Ohio, and she said Pete has a black problem; I don't know of one black person out of Indiana that supports him. That's a really strong statement. When you talk to African Americans in Indiana, do you find universal dislike and lack of support for Mayor Buttigieg, or is it a little more nuanced than that?

WRIGHT: It is definitely an issue, but there still are a lot of leaders in the African American community here who are standing by Pete right now. And they're not saying there's not a problem. They're saying something needs to be done, but they're stepping up and saying, we're going to work with Pete to find a solution. But, no, there definitely is people in the community who do not support Pete.

SHAPIRO: When you go out and talk to African Americans in South Bend, what are the typical things that they tell you about him?

WRIGHT: Well, it's more just the handling of the police department. I mean, he's even admitted that the minority recruiting has been a huge problem - is the biggest problem and that the community is saying, at this point, there's just a lack of trust. I mean, people at the town hall flat-out told him, I don't know if I can trust you and the police department.

SHAPIRO: That's Lincoln Wright, a reporter with the South Bend Tribune in South Bend, Ind. Thanks for joining us.

WRIGHT: No problem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.