Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg returned to the campaign trail Saturday, a day after a tense and emotional rally over a police shooting in his town of South Bend, Indiana, where members of the crowd lashed out at him for not doing enough to help the black community.
The young Democrat canceled most of his campaigning stops this past week, skipping several high-profile events in New York, Hollywood, and South Carolina, to spend time with his frustrated constituents after a white police officer shot and killed Eric Logan, a 54-year-old black man, last Sunday.
Around 3:30 a.m. local time, South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill responded to a report of a man reportedly breaking into cars outside of an apartment building. Police say that when Logan flashed a knife when the officer approached him, and O'Neill opened fire. However, neither O'Neill's body camera or dash camera were turned on, enraging the black community and prompting calls for a federal investigation.
Buttigieg, who's as known as Mayor Pete, has solidified himself as one of the stars in a crowded Democratic field. The 37-year-old, who could become the youngest and first openly gay president, has risen in the polls in recent months, but has struggled to attract black voters. The shooting and its aftermath have now jostled his campaign and thrust the leader of the small city into the national debate on policing and the black community.
On Friday night, the presidential hopeful attended a march in front of police headquarters. About 150 people attended, according to the South Bend Tribune, and footage from the gathering showed several angry demonstrators hounding the mayor for siding with police, failing to proactively address racism against the black community, and not taking immediate action.
The law enforcement in South Bend, like that of many cities in the US, does not reflect its population. The city is 26% black and 14% Latino, records show, but the police department is predominantly white. Over the past few years, as CityLab reports, the police force and Buttigieg have come under fire for several allegations of racial discrimination.
Organizers and several members of Logan's family have also criticized Buttigieg, who has led the city since 2012, for skipping a vigil at the scene of the shooting and not making any public remarks about the incident until Wednesday, when he spoke at a police headquarters to talk to the city’s new cadet class, all of whom are white, about the importance of transparency and turning on body cameras.
“How's he handling it? Well, he talked to the media before the family," Oliver Davis, a veteran black member of the South Bend Common Council, told the Washington Post. "He skipped the family vigil, full of black residents. And then he gave a speech to the police. So how do you think that went over?”
Logan's mother, Shirley Newbill, also told the Post that the family had a brief but frustrating meeting with their mayor, adding, "[He] ain’t done nothing."
"He ain’t recognize me as the mother of nothing. He didn’t say nothing to me," she said.
The family plans to file a lawsuit, their attorney, Brian Coffman, told BuzzFeed News, and they're seeking answers about why Logan was killed as well as what Buttigieg and police officers are doing to prevent similar deaths in the future.
"I appreciate the Mayor's efforts in attempting to be transparent with the process and investigation," he said. "However, the family views that as more of a reaction now to the awful and tragic events instead of taking the necessary steps and planning to prepare and train SBPD officers to properly use their body cameras, and [attempting] deescalating techniques instead of immediately jumping to and using deadly force on a citizen."
However, other residents have defended Buttigieg's leadership, acknowledging his efforts to pause his presidential campaigning to return home.
Rev. Michael Patton, the president of the South Bend NAACP, said on CNN that the mayor "has taken steps to draw our community together. ... He's brought community leaders together, our chief of police, as well others to the table to bring some calm to the storm. ... He’s done a phenomenal job.”
Videos and photos from Friday's rally show Buttigieg in the center of the protest, listening to demonstrators, answering their questions, and addressing their demands.
In one exchange, an attendee handed the leader a petition for him to sign, calling on the Justice Department to investigate Logan's death. The presidential candidate studied it, but then told the activist that he couldn't sign it because certain language would prejudice the internal investigation.
"But I will sign a petition if it's clean ... if it just calls for an outside investigation," Buttigieg explained, prompting the demonstrator to tell the crowd that they need to retool the petition so it excludes specific details about the case, and, that way, Buttigieg could sign it. The group then erupted in applause.
The mayor has said he's extremely "frustrated" that the officer's cameras were not activated and promised marchers at the "Justice for South Bend rally" on Friday that he will work tirelessly to ensure that "there will be more steps to change what is happening in the community."
While he acknowledged he could not fix the system alone, and that his city was dealing with the ramifications of "centuries of racism in this country and in South Bend," he vowed to listen and ensure there would be "accountability for what happened."
"There will be a process to investigate what happened on Sunday," he told the crowd. "And if the community does not have confidence in those processes, then we will find a way to bring somebody from the outside to regain confidence."
By Saturday, the presidential candidate was back on the campaign trail. Speaking at the South Carolina Democratic Convention in Columbia, he talked about the "challenging week back home."
"It is as if one member of our family died at the hands of another," he said. "And even as an outside process works to determine what happened, we already know why such wounds are surfacing and why our whole community hurts."
Buttigieg will be back home Sunday, where he's called a town hall to further discuss the shooting, the police force, and race in South Bend.
Ryan Brooks contributed reporting from South Carolina.