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Pete Buttigieg Faces Fire Over Racial Tensions at Town Hall

Pete Buttigieg

A police shooting in South Bend, Ind., puts the presidential candidate's social justice record under a harsh spotlight.

Pete Buttigieg left the presidential campaign trail over the weekend, but national media followed as the Midwest mayor addressed a growing crisis in his Indiana hometown.

Days after a South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill reportedly shot and killed Eric Logan, a 54-year-old Black man, constituents at a town hall on Sunday demanded Buttigieg take prompt action to exterminate racism within the police department, according to the South Bend Tribune.

"Get the people that are racists off the streets," one constituent shouted at Buttigieg. "You can do that."

Buttigieg sat beside current Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski and took questions from a frustrated and angry audience at Washington High School. Many activists accused the mayor of ignoring previous calls for reform in the police ranks, the Tribune reports.

"How can we trust this process?" activist Blu Casey asked the mayor. "How are we supposed to trust you?"

Buttigieg promised constituents he would be present to navigate the difficult situation facing South Bend.

"I know people aren't going to walk out of this room satisfied," Buttigieg said. "We are here to have tough conversations, but I want everyone here to be empowered, and I want voices to be heard."

He acknowledged a failure to hire a more diverse police force; about 5 percent of officers in the city are Black, but African-Americans make up a quarter of the city's residents.

Buttigieg has enjoyed months of national acclaim on the campaign trail for his ability to articulate progressive values. He's faced homophobic hecklers along the way and faced some absurd demands from the far right to denounce his sexuality.

But the South Bend shooting puts Buttigieg's actual record under scrutiny. The turbulent town hall shows that, particularly among Black constituents, many worry the mayor hasn't addressed systemic racism with keen enough attention.

Buttigieg has recently pushed for body cameras as mayor, but in the June 16 shooting, O'Neill never turned his camera on. The officer claims Logan came after him with a knife before the officer fired his gun twice.

Locally, the mayor's relationship with police and with the Black community has been tense. The Associated Press notes that during Buttigieg's first term in office, he fired the city's first Black police chief. Meanwhile, activists have called for the termination of another officer who has twice been disciplined for civil rights violations but remains on the force.

At the town hall, Buttigieg alternately offered conciliatory words and a defensive tone.

"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, according to NBC News.

But "I can't accept the suggestion that we haven't done anything," he added.

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