Pete Buttigieg Faces Scrutiny Over ‘All Lives Matter’ Remark in 2015
It was March 2015, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., recognized that the country was having what he called a “painful dialogue” about how people of color and law enforcement were coexisting in their communities. The Black Lives Matter movement was growing in influence after several high-profile killings of black men by police officers.
Mr. Buttigieg was also facing a crisis at home. He had demoted the city’s black police chief after the chief was accused of having recorded officers’ conversations without their consent. The chief had sued, contending that he had been demoted because he was black. And rumors were swirling that the recordings had captured racist remarks by some of the officers.
In his State of the City address that March, Mr. Buttigieg said it was “time for South Bend to begin talking about racial reconciliation.”
“There is no contradiction between respecting the risks that police officers take every day in order to protect this community, and recognizing the need to overcome the biases implicit in a justice system that treats people from different backgrounds differently,” Mr. Buttigieg said, according to a transcript of the speech published by The South Bend Voice.
“We need to take both those things seriously, for the simple and profound reason that all lives matter,” he added.
Four years later, as Mr. Buttigieg pursues the Democratic nomination for president, his use of the phrase “all lives matter” — which has often carried the connotation of ignoring the specific grievances of black Americans — has come under scrutiny.
A story published this week by CNBC drew attention to Mr. Buttigieg’s 2015 remarks and also raised questions about his decision to demote the police chief.
On Thursday, Mr. Buttigieg, 37, sought to explain his past use of the phrase while speaking to reporters at a convention for the National Action Network, the nonprofit civil rights organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“At that time, I was talking about a lot of issues around racial reconciliation in our community,” Mr. Buttigieg told reporters. “What I did not understand at that time, was that phrase, just early into mid-2015, was coming to be viewed as a sort of counter-slogan to Black Lives Matter. And so, this statement, that seems very anodyne and something that nobody could be against, actually wound up being used to devalue what the Black Lives Matter movement was telling us.”
“That is the contribution of Black Lives Matter,” he added, “and it’s a reason, since learning about how that phrase was being used to push back on that activism, I’ve stopped using it in that context.”
The close examination of Mr. Buttigieg’s language and his handling of the police department is one of the first speed bumps for a campaign that has otherwise enjoyed a relatively smooth ride. Mr. Buttigieg announced this week that his presidential campaign had raised more than $7 million in the first quarter of 2019, a significant sum for a mayor who was little known outside of South Bend only a few months ago.
Nate Levin-Aspenson, a local organizer in South Bend, told CNBC that Mr. Buttigieg’s use of the phrase in 2015 “was not that long ago.”
“It was not a time when ‘all lives matter’ was a smart thing to say, or reflective of someone who is concerned about black people being killed by the police,” he said.
The Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. The movement gained even greater recognition the following year after the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Soon, the phrase “all lives matter” also emerged. Some people who faced blowback for using the phrase said they had used it with good intentions as a way to bring people together. But others seemed to use it to rebut the idea that black people faced unique prejudice in the United States.
The fresh scrutiny of Mr. Buttigieg’s 2015 remarks has also resurfaced the allegations made by the police chief, Darryl Boykins, who sued the mayor in 2013. In federal court documents, Mr. Boykins — who could not immediately be reached on Thursday — said he had been illegally demoted from his job as chief in 2012 because he was black. Mr. Buttigieg has maintained the demotion was necessary because Mr. Boykins was the subject of a federal wiretapping investigation.
The case was settled in late 2013, court documents show. But a separate legal dispute continues between the City Council of South Bend and the group of police officers who were recorded over whether the tapes can be released. Mr. Buttigieg’s office has refused to release the tapes without a court order, and has said that doing so would put the administration in legal jeopardy.
Susan C. Beachy contributed research.
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