South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who stepped away from the campaign trail last week after a police-involved shooting in the city, addressed the issue during Thursday night’s Democratic debate in Miami.
Buttigieg, one of 10 candidates who took the stage on the second night of a two-night debate, described a “community in anguish” over the shooting, and took a measure of responsibility for the issues his city is currently grappling with.
“My community is in anguish right now. It’s a mess, and we’re hurting,” he said. “I could take you through all the things we have done as a community, all of the steps that we’ve taken from bias training to de-escalation, but it didn’t save the life of Eric Logan.”
Logan, who was black, was killed by a white police officer on June 16 after he was allegedly found breaking into cars in the city. Sgt. Ryan O’Neill said that Logan approached him with a knife, but his body camera was not on during the incident, a factor that Buttigieg brought up in his remarks on Thursday night.
“I’m not allowed to take sides until the investigation comes back,” he said.
During the debate, commentator Rachel Maddow asked Buttigieg about the composition of the South Bend police force, which is just six percent black, compared to a city that is 26 percent black, and why those numbers haven’t improved while he’s been in office.
“Because I couldn’t get it done,” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg also described the feelings he’s had while talking to Logan’s mother.
“When I look into his mother’s eyes, I have to face the fact that nothing I can say will bring him back,” he said. “This is an issue facing our community and so many other communities across America, and until we move policing out from the shadows of systemic racism, whatever this particular incident teaches us, we’ll be left with a bigger problem that there is a wall of mistrust, put up one racist act at a time not just from the past, but what’s happening across the country in the present.”
Logan’s family has filed a lawsuit against the officer, and the city of South Bend, after the incident, saying that the officer used “excessive deadly force” in the shooting.
As part of the investigation into the shooting, Buttigieg has requested help from the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, asking for a federal probe into the shooting. He also called for an independent investigator to be appointed in the case.
Buttigieg left the campaign trail after the incident, and has been confronted at several town hall meetings by residents angry with his administration over their policy of racially-charged issues.
“The disconnect between the black community and the municipality under several administrations has been a festering problem in the greater South Bend area for more than 50 years,” resident KaRon Kirkland told NBC News. “It didn’t start with Pete.”
In concluding his answer, Buttigieg said that if he is elected president, he hopes he can help bridge the divide and heal the mistrust that exists between black communities and police departments.
“I’m determined to bring about a day where a white person driving a vehicle and a black person driving a vehicle can see a police officer approaching and feel the exact same thing: a feeling not of fear, but of safety,” he said.