South Bend's Black Voters Revolt Against Pete Buttigieg, Threaten to Derail His 2020 Campaign

Black voters in South Bend, Ind., have vocally opposed Mayor Pete Buttigieg, blaming him for leaving the city to campaign for president amid the tense aftermath of a police shooting that claimed the life of a 54-year-old black man. The tensions broke out afresh at a town hall event on Sunday evening.

"We don't trust you!" a woman hollered as Buttigieg attempted to address the issue, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Last Sunday, Sergeant Ryan O'Neill shot and killed 54-year-old Eric Jack Logan. Logan was allegedly breaking into cars with a knife in hand. O'Neill has been accused of racist behavior by both officers and residents he arrested, although some of those complaints were found to be "not sustained," CNN reported. Worse, his body camera was not turned on during the interaction, making residents suspicious.

O'Neill was put on administrative leave after the shooting. Buttigieg has said he is "extremely frustrated" at the lack of footage and ordered his police chief to ensure that police body cameras are on during interactions with civilians.

At the town hall event Sunday, Buttigieg tried to explain how officials will review the shooting, saying he did not want to prejudice the investigation. He also said he would ask the U.S. Department of Justice to review the case and would ask for an independent prosecutor to weigh the merits of the case.

Like a good executive, he took responsibility for the failure of the body cameras. "If anybody is trying to figure out who to hold responsible, the administration bought the technology, hired the officer and wrote the policy. So at the end of the day, I'm responsible," he said.

Buttigieg took a break from campaigning after the tragic shooting last Sunday, but on Friday he attempted to get back on the 2020 campaign trail, drawing the ire of black residents in South Bend. He withdrew from the South Carolina fish fry hosted by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), in order to attend a protest on Logan's behalf.

Angry activists demanded the mayor declare, "Black Lives Matter!" When he did so, they shouted back, "Then fire your cops!" Others asked, "Are you a racist?"

The confrontation ended with a protester asking, "You running for president and you want black people to vote for you?" the mayor responded, "I'm not asking for your vote." To this, the protester responded, "You ain't going to get it, either."

Later, at the town hall, one man loudly asked Buttigieg, "You gotta get back to South Carolina like you was yesterday? Did you talk about 'All Lives Matter' in South Carolina?"

Activists have long faulted Buttigieg for firing the city's black police chief, Darryl Boykins, in 2012 over allegations that Boykins improperly recorded white police officers making racist remarks. The crisis sparked multiple lawsuits.

Boykins' removal, along with the fact that the recordings were never released, soured Buttigieg in the minds of many black residents. The mayor "had a chance to make a stand and didn't do it," 23-year-old activist and recording artist Blu Casey told The Los Angeles Times. "He never stepped up and became the leader."

The shooting victim's mother also attacked the mayor. "I have been here all my life, and you have not done a damn thing about me or my son or none of these people out here," Shirley Newbill told Buttigieg. "It's time for you to do something."

Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate to seek a major party's presidential nomination, enjoyed a surge of popularity due to his restrained demeanor, his veteran status, and his ability to speak many languages. As a 37-year-old in a race dominated by septuagenarians, he became the young inspiring foil to former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), outshining former Rep. Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke (D-Texas).

Yet it would be extremely difficult for a Democrat to win the party's nomination without black voters. Buttigieg will have to tread carefully in this crisis. Even without a major slip-up, the mayor will need a miracle to turn this crisis around.

"You might as well just withdraw your name from the presidential race," a woman in the town hall crowd yelled at Buttigieg. "His presidential campaign is over... I believe that today ended his campaign."

Black voters have not made up their minds in the race, and there are many months to go before the first votes are cast in the primary campaign. However, Buttigieg will have to work hard to prove this woman wrong.

Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.