Buttigieg faces off with residents in tense, raw South Bend town hall

South Bend mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg faced his constituents at a tense town hall Sunday afternoon following the fatal shooting of Eric Logan, an African American man, by South Bend Police Sgt. O’Neill, a white police officer, one week ago.

Attendees shouted their concerns and their disappointment in city officials for not taking swifter action to address the strained relationship between the police department and the black community. Buttigieg noted the complex relationship between minorities and police extends beyond last Sunday’s incident. 

“There is a lot beneath the surface when it comes to trust and legitimacy around policing and race in our city,” the South Bend mayor said. 

Buttigieg told attendees that the city has made progress in regard to the promotion process, raising police discipline standards and increasing public data online. And Buttigieg said that he will send a letter to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to look into the city’s police department. 

He also said he told the prosecutor handling the case that he thinks an independent investigator should take over the case. The St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit is investigating the shooting.

But Buttigieg also acknowledged he has failed to diversify the police department and ensure that officers body cameras. O’Neill’s body camera reportedly wasn’t activated during last Sunday’s incident.

“As the mayor of the city, I want to acknowledge that those last two lines of effort, the effort to recruit more minority officers to the police department and the effort to introduce body cameras, have not succeed,” he said. “And I accept responsibility for that.”

In the question-and-answer section, one attendee told Buttigieg to reorganize his department by Friday of next week to “get the racists off the streets,” in reference to law enforcement officers.

Buttigieg responded among shouts from the crowd, “I will say that if anyone who is on patrol is shown to be a racist, or to do something racist in a way that is substantiated, that is their last day on the street.”

South Bend Common Councilwoman Regina Williams-Preston, who was present at the meeting, called on Buttigieg to expand his outreach among the African American leaders in South Bend. 

“There needs to be more meaningful conversations with a more diverse group because what you see tonight is that African Americans are not monolithic,” Williams-Preston said. 

In a press gaggle after the town hall, an emotional Buttigieg said it was his job to hear from the community, regardless of what the ramifications may be.

“I just think it is my job,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t know if it is smart or not. I don’t know if it is strategic or not, but it is my city and I have a relationship with everybody in this city…And when somebody loses their life because of a civilian or because of an officer and it is happening all over the country, but it is happening here. Then I feel like it is my job to face it.

Rev. Michael Patton, who is the president of the South Bend chapter of the NAACP, moderated the discussion with Buttigieg and South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski. 

In an interview Friday afternoon with CNN, Patton supported Buttigieg’s efforts after the shooting, saying he has been doing a “phenomenal job.” Patton has also thrown his support behind Buttigieg in the presidential race.

“I certainly see our mayor as someone who potentially could lead our country as well. He’s led our community, South Bend, well,” Patton said. “I believe that he has — I have full confidence that he could lead our nation as well.”

Lwan Easton, a 37-year-old South Bend resident who attended the town hall, said the city needs to unite, but said he didn’t expect much going from the town hall. 

“I just think it’s maybe a ploy to just kind of get us all together to talk, try to calm tensions and try to build confidence in the people that they going to figure everything out,” Easton said. 

According to the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office, O’Neill was responding last Sunday to a report of a person breaking into cars. According to a release from the office, O’Neill encountered Logan in an apartment building parking lot and Logan allegedly approached O’Neill with a knife. O’Neill then reportedly discharged his weapon, shooting Logan in the abdomen.  

This town hall comes days before Buttigieg is scheduled to participate in the Democratic primary debates. Buttigieg, who has been on and off the campaign trail since the incident, said he is still planning to debate his fellow candidates later this week.

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