The rise of South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been one of the bigger surprises of the still-nascent Democratic primary. But running as a mayor—rather than a member of Congress, or a governor, or mysterious drifter—has its own unique set of challenges, as Buttigieg is quickly finding out.
On Sunday, a white South Bend police officer named Ryan O’Neil shot and killed 54-year old Eric Logan, a black man. O’Neil, who told investigators he was responding to a break-in, alleges that Logan was carrying a knife and refused to put it down, and that he was forced to shoot and kill Logan when he stepped towards the officer. O’Neil wasn’t wearing a body cam during the incident. And as HuffPost reported earlier this week, court documents showed that fellow officers have alleged that O’Neil has made racist comments in the past.
The incident is a window to how Buttigieg would handle criminal justice reform and police brutality at a national level. So far, according to an account in the Washington Post, it appears that he hasn’t passed the test.
According to the Post, Buttigieg gave a press conference about the killing while Logan’s family waited in the next room. While the Post says they did have a brief conversation, the family “grew frustrated with Buttigieg’s inability to provide information and his lack of compassion,” and the meeting ended. “[Buttigieg] ain’t done nothing,” Logan’s mother told the Post. “He ain’t recognize me as the mother of nothing. He didn’t say nothing to me.”
Per the Post (emphasis mine):
On Wednesday, Buttigieg finally made his first extended public remarks about the shooting, appearing at South Bend police headquarters to lecture the city’s new cadet class about the importance of turning on their body cameras when they interact with members of the public. During Sunday’s shooting, the officer’s camera had been turned off.
“This is his nightmare,” said Jorden Gieger, a community organizer who is close to Logan’s family. “You have to imagine the first thing he said to the police chief was, ‘You all had one job: Don’t shoot a black guy while I’m running for president.’ ”
“How’s he handling it?” said Oliver Davis, the longest-serving black member of the South Bend Common Council. “Well, he talked to the media before the family. He skipped the family vigil, full of black residents. And then he then gave a speech to the police. So, how do you think that went over?”
Buttigieg’s relationship with the black community in the town he runs has never been exceptional, as he’s been accused of accelerating gentrification in South Bend. Tensions also remain over Buttigieg firing the city’s black police chief, Darryl Boykins, after a wiretapping scandal in which fellow officers allegedly made racist comments about Boykins on those tapes.
The killing of Eric Logan is exposing that divide even more. While South Bend NAACP chapter president Rev. Michael Patton told the Post that Buttigieg “has been transparent thus far, and we are working together,” the Post notes that “a number of younger community organizers and more outspoken black activists were excluded,” and that people are furious over Buttigieg’s lack of attendance at the vigil for Logan on Monday.
“If you spill milk on the ground, and you wipe it up, it doesn’t stink. But if you let the milk stay on the ground, it goes sour and stinks up the room,” Davis told the Post. “Mayor Pete let the milk stay on the ground and stink up the room.”