South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg did reasonably well during the second 2020 Democratic debate on Thursday night, with many praising his ability to hold his own. Buttigieg has been considered a rising star in the Democratic Party with his seemingly progressive views on race, but on the home front, many of his constituents have called for his resignation and criticized his apparent unwillingness to discipline police officers in South Bend.
During the debate, Buttigieg was confronted by several of his fellow presidential candidates, who questioned him about how he was handling his city’s police department’s killing of a Black man. Logan was shot and killed June 16 when Sgt. Ryan O’Neill responded to a call that someone was breaking into cars. O’Neill, who later claimed Logan threatened him with a knife, did not activate his body camera during the encounter, which is against city policy.
“So under Indiana law this will be investigated, and there will be accountability for the officer involved,” Buttigieg began.
California Rep. Eric Swalwell stunned the young mayor when he responded, “But you’re the mayor, you should fire the chief, if that’s the policy and someone died.”
Buttigieg’s “death stare” aimed at Swalwell prompted hilarious responses like this one on Twitter.
Buttigieg’s narrative of accountability on the campaign trail has not only been met with criticism by other candidates but also heavily by those who he claimed to serve. During a tense town hall meeting following Logan’s death, he pledged that if he would not tolerate racism on the police force.
“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,” Buttigieg claimed.
Receipts tell a different story.
Court documents show that O’Neill, who shot Logan, has been accused by his own co-workers for making racist remarks in the past in court documents. During one instance, O’Neill spotted a Black woman sitting in the back of a patrol car and he turned to one of his fellow officers and said, “do you want to get some of that black meat?” Also when he saw an interracial couple he uttered, “man I hate seeing that, it makes me sick, that makes me want to throw up.”
Another South Bend Police Officer Aaron Knepper has been a problem on the police force for nearly eight years and has been faced with numerous accusations of racism. According to Buzzfeed, in 2012 Knepper tased a young Black man after mistaking him for someone else, the subject of a $15 million excessive force settlement in 2014 and was accused of misconduct in his arrest of a Notre Dame football player in 2016. During a police community forum in 2016, activists called for Knepper’s firing and claimed he was a danger to the community.
“It’s not appropriate for me to get into any individual officer. What I will say is we have a process for handling disciplinary matters for police and fire,” Buttigieg said during the forum. “A rush to judgment in any direction usually leads to an unfair outcome.”
Buttigieg’s unwillingness to take the notably problematic officers like O’Neill and Knepper off of the streets shows a pattern that is not consistent with the claims he has made during his presidential bid. And with many stops to go on the campaign, racism in the police force has a chance to continue to fall through the cracks.