Amid widespread criticism of policing in South Bend, Indiana, following the June 2019 shooting of Eric Logan, a 54-year-old black resident, then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s administration established a series of public meetings with the Board of Public Safety, the disciplinary body overseeing the police department. While Buttigieg said his administration was taking “steps that were empowering for residents,” the presidential candidate attended only one of those eight meetings, traveling across the country for fundraisers, speaking engagements, and campaign events instead.
The board in July scheduled seven “community advisory groups,” wherein city officials would “publicly solicit input from residents on a range of law enforcement issues” for August and September, and later added an eighth meeting in November. Buttigieg, now one of the top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, attended only one of those meetings — the second-to-last one, on September 19 — a day after after activists spoke to CNBC about his absence. While Buttigieg was never meant to lead those meetings, activists in the city say his absence was glaring.
“We’ve discussed police policy, training, procedures, etcetera, but Mayor Pete didn’t come to any of those meetings until we called him out in the national media,” said Black Lives Matter South Bend leader Jorden Giger, who attended several of the community meetings. Giger is also a leader of Our Revolution Michiana, a regional chapter of the political organization that was born out of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Buttigieg’s relationship with black residents in the city he led for seven years as mayor has been a major sore point in his campaign, especially as he rose in some early state polls in the winter. But he has largely gotten by without having to answer one of the most glaring questions standing between him and the nomination: how he’ll win over black voters when he’s polling at just 2 percent with that demographic nationally, and at zero in South Carolina — an early primary state with a large black electorate.
Black Lives Matter activists, including some from South Bend, have protested at Buttigieg’s campaign events in states like California and Iowa. The local Black Lives Matter chapter has taken issue with the mayor since his inauguration, not long after which he asked for the resignation of the city’s black police chief, whom he later demoted after significant pushback. The group protested again last week, ahead of the debate at a campaign event in Iowa, clashing with Buttigieg supporters who shouted chants of “Boot-Edge-Edge” and “USA, USA” over activists chanting “anti-black, anti-poor” as they were escorted out of the venue.
The Board of Public Safety’s meetings were open to the public, and included members of the local Group Violence Intervention Core Group, a coalition of community leaders working to end gun violence, members of the Common Council, South Bend Police Department leadership, and members of the mayor’s office. At each meeting, the group reviewed various police policies and took input from community members. Activists negotiated their concerns into changes the police department would consider implementing into their policy manual, a process that’s currently underway.
The community advisory group meetings took place on August 8, 15, 20, 27; September 5, 12, 19; and November 7. For all but one of those dates, Buttigieg was at fundraisers, campaign events, and speeches around the country, including the September Democratic debate in Houston. He spoke at several of those events about the issue of race and how his administration had addressed related concerns in South Bend.
In a statement, the Buttigieg campaign pointed out that the candidate returned to South Bend in the wake of Logan’s killing to be with his community during that difficult time, and that he took a number of other steps before leaving office on January 1 to mend police-community relations.
“Since then, Pete has taken a series of actions to help the South Bend community begin to heal — including supporting the creation of community action groups that were organized by the Board of Public Safety,” campaign spokesperson Sean Savett wrote in an email. “In the meantime, Pete worked to make policy changes before leaving office to try to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again. It’s been a difficult time for many in South Bend but survey results recently found that trust is improving between the community and the police, and that the Community Action Group Meetings with South Bend Police were a major factor.”
On August 8, Buttigieg addressed attendees at the National Association of Black Journalists’ annual conference in Miami, saying the “whole country is in danger by white supremacy.” That day, the community advisory board held its kickoff meeting. Plainclothes officers arrived carrying firearms, which angered community members. A spokesperson for Logan’s brother Tyree Bonds wrote an op-ed in the South Bend Tribune describing the armed presence as “insensitivity and intimidation.”
On August 15, Buttigieg was on his second day in a stint of campaign events in Iowa. The same day, the community advisory group held a meeting on the police department’s body camera policy.
On August 20, when South Bend’s community advisory group was discussing South Bend’s police use-of-force policy, Buttigieg held a fundraiser in Chicago at the offices of Clayco, a construction company whose founder and executive chair, Bob Clark, was a major supporter of former President Barack Obama. In 2010, Obama appointed him to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. Clark contributed at least $5,600 to both Buttigieg’s primary and general election funds. He gave the maximum $2,800 to Biden’s campaign last April, and another $5,000 in March to Biden’s former political action committee, American Possibilities PAC, which shut down in August. Clark did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After the Clayco fundraiser, Buttigieg attended an event with supporters at Chicago’s Harold Washington Cultural Center. The Chicago Sun Times described the event as “overwhelmingly white” in “the historically black community.” Pastor Chris Harris, who ministers at the city’s Bright Star Church, noted the demographics of the crowd as he introduced the mayor. “Next time we have this kind of event, especially in Bronzeville,” Harris said, “we need some more black faces. … Next time, you can’t leave your black and brown friends at home.” Buttigieg touted his Douglass Plan for “Comprehensive Investment in the Empowerment of Black America,” speaking to issues of racial injustice. “We need to act on the knowledge that this country is being dragged down by racial inequality,” Buttigieg told the audience. “We have to act.”
On August 27, Buttigieg attended a march with gig economy workers outside Uber headquarters in San Francisco. The same day he held what Deadline called a “‘low-dollar’ fundraiser” in Hollywood, with tickets starting at $25 to “draw younger and less affluent donors.” Co-hosts included Conor and Kick Kennedy, children of Robert Kennedy Jr.
Buttigieg held another fundraiser that night at the Los Angeles home of attorney Steve Warren and director and producer Johnnie Ingram, attended by attorneys, venture capitalists, and entertainment executives. Tickets started at $750. The topic of that day’s community advisory group meeting in South Bend was the police policy on vehicle pursuit.
On September 5, Buttigieg held a fundraiser in Manhattan with tickets starting at $1,500 hosted by Basha Frost Rubin, CEO of Priori Legal, a platform that helps connect companies with lawyers, and Scott Grinsell, assistant general counsel for Elliott Management Corporation, a $37 billion investment management firm that owns a $3.2 billion stake in AT&T. Later that night, Buttigieg appeared on the Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
The day before the next community advisory group’s September 19 meeting, CNBC reported that local activists had complained that Buttigieg had so far failed to attend any of those meetings. On September 19, he returned to South Bend to attend the meeting after speaking at a town hall in Columbia, South Carolina, earlier in the day. (According to his campaign, he had already been scheduled to attend the board meeting.)
On November 7, South Bend’s Board of Public Safety held an eighth additional community advisory group meeting to review the police department’s process for conducting internal investigations. That day, Buttigieg attended two fundraisers in New York City; tickets for one started at $1,000, the other at $2,800.
Buttigieg often says he’s not one to shrink away from tough conversations, even with his critics, and that his administration took steps in the wake of Logan’s killing to engage with the community to make things better. When faced with questions on his record in South Bend, Buttigieg, his former mayoral office, and his campaign tout the same kinds of things: Buttigieg commissioned South Bend’s first-ever disparity study, he created the city’s first of the office of diversity and inclusion, and he appointed a majority-minority Board of Public Safety. But his critics say those things only created the appearance that the city was addressing their concerns.
In areas where the mayor could have changed things that would have had an immediate impact on the community, like firing Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski, BLM South Bend activists say he ignored their input. They also say Buttigieg ignored their calls to change the Board of Public Safety’s leadership and give community members a say in the appointment process, which he handled as mayor.
The city’s Black Lives Matter chapter has also called, along with the South Bend Tribune and other city officials, for Buttigieg to establish an independent civilian review board to evaluate officer shootings and cases of misconduct. The South Bend Tribune in a July editorial said Buttigieg had “been urged to take this step many times during his tenure as mayor — by members of the public, current and former members of the Common Council and by this board,” and that while he “has spent much time talking about the issues of race and policing,” it was time for the mayor “to match action with words.”
BLM activists told CNBC in September that in the month following Logan’s shooting, Buttigieg promised them he would release data from a racial bias test administered to members of the police department, and provide information on securing mental health services for Logan’s family. But as of January, the city has not released either. CNBC cited “a person close to the mayor” who said that the city could not provide the data on police bias, “but said that it did not diminish the city’s goal of having an unbiased police force.” The person said the city was “still researching” how to provide mental health services to Logan’s family following his shooting, and that doing so was complicated by the family’s civil rights lawsuit against the city and the former officer who shot him.