South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg (D.) faces growing calls for his resignation in the wake of a white police officer shooting and killing a black man.
The incident occurred in the early morning of June 14 and snapped racial tensions that have been tightening since Buttigieg demoted Darryl Boykins, the city's first black police chief, in 2012. Buttigieg held a town hall on June 23, but South Bend's black community reacted with fury. They pointed to racial conflicts within the SBPD as well as the department's fraught relationship with the black community, demanding swift change.
Six shootings occurred the weekend of his town hall. In one instance, a witness reported that the shooter was aiming specifically at police. A number of South Bend officials who served under Buttigieg as well as local civil rights activists are now calling for the mayor’s resignation.
"To start with trying to heal, the mayor just needs to resign," activist and pastor Mario Sims told the Washington Free Beacon, adding that Buttigieg should demote Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski to cleanse the department of bad blood.
Sims also added that he believes Buttigieg is racially "tone-deaf" and should consider retiring from politics until he has "spent some time evaluating this."
"I understand political ambition, I understand that," Sims said. "But you're playing games with the lives of the people here, and innocent police officers."
Sims has clashed with Buttigieg in the past, speaking out against the mayor's decision to demote Boykins. That decision, coupled with Buttigieg's lack of transparency following it, Sims said, has opened a rift between South Bend's police and its black communities that disqualifies Buttigieg from political legitimacy.
"Right now there's no way he can stand on the stage and honestly talk about the issues pressing this country when he can't even successfully address the dire issues of race, lack of diversity, and poverty, not to mention the homeless issue in this city," Sims said. "If you can't even address those issues in a city of 100,000, my God, how can you address those issues in 50 states?"
Former president of South Bend's Board of Public Safety Pat Cottrell also told the Free Beacon that Buttigieg should resign and that the mayor should "definitely not" be running for president after this latest incident.
Cottrell said that in addition to Buttigieg’s checkered record on racial issues, the mayor has been a poor administrator when faced with internal disagreements in city government.
"Pete is a fraud," he said.
Cottrell resigned from the BPS in 2013, after Buttigieg ignored his recommendation to fire then-Police Chief Ron Teachman for an incident where Teachman was alleged to have refrained from helping a black police officer break up a fight. Cottrell believes that Buttigieg did not discipline Teachman at the time to protect his own political reputation. And since then, Cottrell said he has "no respect" for Buttigieg's judgment.
"If there wasn’t anyone else running for president, I still wouldn’t vote for Pete," Cottrell told the Free Beacon.
Cottrell’s words echo those of former South Bend Common Council president Derek Dieter, who told the Free Beacon last week that Buttigieg should have resigned when he decided to run for president in late 2018.
"Because of Pete's selfishness, in my opinion, he is still the mayor," Dieter said.
Additionally, the South Bend Fraternal Order of Police denounced Buttigieg's leadership in a statement last Monday.
"Mayor Buttigieg's focus on this incident is solely for his political gain and not the health of the city he serves," the FOP wrote. "Mayor Buttigieg's comments have already and will continue to have a detrimental effect on local law enforcement officers and law enforcement officers nationwide. Mayor Buttigieg’s comments and actions are driving a wedge between law enforcement officers and the community they took an oath to serve."
At the same time, black activists in South Bend are confronting the mayor over his leadership. South Bend resident Tiana Wardell told the Free Beacon that she is working with Common Council member Regina Williams-Preston to hold Buttigieg accountable for the police department by proposing a new racial sensitivity program.
Wardell said she believes the friction between SBPD and the city's black community existed long before Buttigieg took office, but under his leadership, his lack of oversight allowed old wounds to break open anew.
"I think because the lack of addressing racial concerns over his 9 years, and in the 20 years before him, that led to people getting the sense that things would not be done," she said. "And I think when you're not held accountable, people's actions speak to the lack of accountability. Unfortunately, because of that, we lost someone in our community."
Bernardo Malone, founder of Justice for South Bend, added to Wardell's comments, saying that while he's seen the police relationship with black communities deteriorate in his lifetime, he is willing to give Buttigieg the benefit of the doubt—if he acts soon.
"Now that he knows the full problem, if he doesn't fix it, that will fall back on him," he told the Free Beacon.
The situation puts Buttigieg in a tough position, even as he faces a wide field in the Democratic presidential primaries—in addition to trying to unseat President Trump, he fights a two-front war at home: "He's managed to anger the black community and the police department," Sims told the Free Beacon. "Now how do you do that?"