Buttigieg's 'Achilles' Heel' Shows at Angry Town Hall

Black residents of South Bend confront mayor about fatal police shooting
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2019 8:42 AM CDT
Buttigieg's 'Achilles' Heel' Shows at Angry Town Hall
Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg looks on during a town hall community meeting, Sunday, June 23, 2019, at Washington High School in South Bend, Ind.   (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

It's Debate Week for the Democratic candidates, but South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has a major hometown issue brewing that threatens to overshadow his national ambitions. Earlier this month, a white police officer in his city fatally shot a black man, prompting Buttigieg to leave the campaign trail to deal with the aftermath. On Sunday night, anger among black residents boiled over at a town hall meeting, with much of that anger directed at Buttigieg himself. Details:

  • The town hall: The word "emotional" is common in coverage as Buttigieg and Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski addressed the crowd. One woman yelled they must get "racist" officers off the streets. A man yelled to Buttigieg, "You got to get back to South Carolina like you were yesterday?" per CNN. Another said: "How long before you take action? The people who are here angry and yelling and upset have asked this of you before." And maybe the most cutting slam of all: "We don't trust you!" per the Washington Post.
  • Promises: Buttigieg said he'd ask the Department of Justice's civil rights division to investigate the shooting and will tell the local prosecutor that he wants an independent investigator, reports the AP. "The effort to recruit more minority officers to the police department and the effort to introduce body cameras have not succeeded and I accept responsibility for that," he said.

  • The shooting: Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill shot Eric Jack Logan, 54, on June 16 after receiving a report about someone going through cars. O'Neill says he fired after Logan approached him with a knife raised, though city officials say there is no body cam footage of the incident, reports the Indianapolis Star. Black residents don't buy the police version of events, notes the Los Angeles Times.
  • As a candidate: Buttigieg has struggled to connect with minority voters, and "his difficulty quelling the frustrations and concerns among black residents here threatens to upend his well-crafted pitch about South Bend's rebuilt downtown and overall economic strides," write Mitch Smith and Alexander Burns in the New York Times.
  • Ditto: For Buttigieg, the shooting has exposed "what has long been considered an Achilles’ heel of his candidacy: his frosty relationship with South Bend’s black residents," writes Wesley Lowery in the Washington Post. South Bend has a population of about 101,000, and the police force is 90% white, even though the city is about 27% black, per the AP and StatisticalAtlas.
  • Showing emotion: Buttigieg is seen as unflappable on the campaign trail, but "for the first time, cracks in Buttigieg’s composure have publicly emerged," writes Josh Lederman at NBC News. "He’s struggled to find the right tone to respond to piercing questions" about race. Here is CNN's take in regard to the town hall: "Buttigieg kept his emotions in check, something that has become a trademark of the candidate on the campaign trail but did let out a mix of frustration at being interrupted and visible sadness at the fact that these issues plague the city he has led for eight years."
(More Pete Buttigieg 2020 stories.)

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