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Mayor Pete Faces the Music: RaceAhead

Ellen McGirt

Last week, a black South Bend, Ind. resident was shot and killed by a white police officer. His name was Eric J. Logan. He was 54 years old.

The officer involved claimed that Logan approached him with a knife and ignored repeated orders to drop it. Neither the dashcam or the officer’s bodycam video had been activated. As a result, there are a lot of unknowns.

The incident has inflamed existing tensions between South Bend’s young and charismatic mayor, Pete Buttigieg, and the city’s black community. Now Buttigieg, who had been winning over crowds across the country during his unlikely quest as presidential hopeful, is facing his first test of truly public leadership.

“How’s he handling it?” said Oliver Davis, the longest-serving black member of the South Bend Common Council to The Washington Post. “Well, he talked to the media before the family. He skipped the family vigil, full of black residents. And then he then gave a speech to the police. So, how do you think that went over?”

Those tensions came to a head during a town hall meeting yesterday afternoon with a deeply skeptical and angry majority-black hometown crowd.

It went poorly for Mayor Pete.

“We don’t trust you!” yelled one audience member. “Liar!” yelled another, as the meeting descended into chaos. Twitter users also followed the action closely. “Don’t treat Black folks horribly, ignore police violence against them and try to run for president thinking Black folks are just gonna fall in line & back you just because you’re a Democrat,” said one user. “Black people in South Bend wasn’t having it.”

The mayor has been called out in the past for his economic development plan which razed low-income black and Latinx neighborhoods, and for his handling of police misconduct cases and lack of diversity on the police force.

A quarter of the city’s 100,000 residents are black, 40 percent of whom live at or below the poverty line. Many of them showed up yesterday. “You might as well just withdraw your name from the presidential race,” said one woman in the crowd. “His presidential campaign is over… I believe that today ended his campaign.”

Had Buttigieg still been the relatively unknown head of a small Midwestern city, the death of Mr. Logan and the subsequent investigation might not have made the national news. Instead, a small group of citizens, angry and ready for prime time, were able to bring their legitimate grievances to their celebrity mayor, and as a result, the rest of the world.

It’s the best argument thus far for having so many people run for president.

Former Vice President and current presidential candidate Joe Biden is facing his own problems with race, which we’ll cover in greater depth as they continue to plague him. Because they will.

Instead, I’ll end today’s dispatch on a lighter note of race and reconciliation, courtesy of the BET Awards, which aired last night.

While the show is always a joy-fest—and, this year included a magnificent tribute to slain artist Nipsey Hussle—there was one moment of inclusion that deserves a special call-out.

This year, the BET family welcomed Billy Ray Cyrus to the stage, as he joined rapper Lil Nas X in a performance of his country-rap hit “Old Town Road.” Lil Nas X, resplendent in yellow fringed chaps, has found a country home in the heart of the R&B community, one that was denied him on the music charts.

If you’re old enough to remember the backlash when Houston, Tex. native Beyoncé performed with the Dixie Chicks at the 2016 CMA Awards, then you understand what a moment this was.

It’s nice for Cyrus to have this surprising second act. But I have to believe he’s earned the love not just for his country bona fides, but for his willingness to stand up for a talented young brother who was facing an unfair barrier to his advancement. It was an ally power move.

Now that’s a leader we can believe in.

  • On Point

    Focusing on just diversity numbers creates tunnel vision And that makes it difficult to create a truly inclusive workplace, writes Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman of PwC, in Fortune. “Establishing a workplace where each employee feels comfortable bringing their true selves to work is key,” he says. That’s why reforming company culture needs to be central to any diversity and inclusion strategy. These efforts shouldn’t be “tacked on as an extracurricular,” he says, but rather central to the company’s approach. To that end, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion—a coalition of 700 companies—has introduced a pledge for participating CEOs to present their diversity and inclusion plans to their respective boards of directors, creating a “mechanism which holds them accountable to their employees to make the workplace better for all.” Fortune

    A transgender Goldman Sachs employee describes how she ‘became herself at work’ “Wall Street has had a hard time kicking its reputation as a dismal place for people who aren’t straight white men,” this New York Times feature points out, but “Goldman presents itself as being ahead of the curve on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.” Although obstacles remain evident in Wall Street work culture, Goldman’s medical plan has covered gender-affirming surgery and hormone therapy since 2007. Maeve DuVally is just the second Goldman employee to officially transition at work. Following a company-hosted LGBT event, she decided to come out. DuVally says she believed from a very early age that she wanted to be a woman, “But I never, on a conscious level, thought that there was anything I could do about that.”
    New York Times

    Maysoon Zayid joins cast of ‘General Hospital’ Longtime raceAhead readers know Zayid for her work as an advocate for equity and inclusion and her non-nonsense, comedic chops—her 2013 TED Talk helped the Palestinian-American actress and comedian to raise awareness of her mad skills and the lack of representation for people with disabilities in film and television. “People with disabilities are the largest minority in the world, and we are the most underrepresented in entertainment,” she says. But now, as a no-nonsense attorney representing some shady character in some sort of custody battle, she’s become what she asked for, a powerful character on an iconic show, who just happens to have a disability. “Thank you for believing in me and for being integral in making my dream come true,” she tweeted the GH cast. Just as a reminder of what a badass Zayid is, she once defied death threats to perform a free show to delegates at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Brianne Amira on Medium

    The gazebo where Tamir Rice was killed has been moved to Chicago Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, knew the gazebo where her son was killed could not stay in Cleveland. Working with artist Theaster Gates and his nonprofit Rebuild Foundation, it’s been moved and reassembled, shingle by shingle, as the centerpiece of a temporary exhibit at the Stony Island Arts Bank, on Chicago’s South Side. The gazebo will debut this week for what would have been Tamir’s 17th birthday. Stony Island will host the gazebo for two years, which will be surrounded by a community garden. “We are humbled to house and have the opportunity to construct a space for community healing and reflection that honors the life and memory of Tamir Rice,” said Gates in a statement. Hyperallergic

  • On Background

    The complicated definition of innocence Law & Order re-runs aside, today, very few criminal cases go to trial anymore. Instead, mostly innocent people are now forced into plea bargains, the often bizarre dance between a person stuck in the criminal justice system and the system that wants to extract some measure of efficient justice. But the horse-trading between prosecutors and defendants has changed dramatically. “American legislators have criminalized so many behaviors that police are arresting millions of people annually—almost 11 million in 2015,” explains The Atlantic’s Emily Yoffe in this deep dive. Plea deals are often capricious, and thanks to them, now millions of Americans have criminal records. The Atlantic

    Four writers on being ‘on their meds’ There are some 44 million people living with some sort of mental illness, and roughly 19 million are being treated with some combination of medication and therapy. The stigma associated with medication remains profound, and the casual way people talk about psychiatric states—are you crazy?—can further isolate people with mental illness. “I was a 26-year-old undergraduate who could barely manage to eat or shower once a day. I eventually admitted to myself that I was not well,” writes Anthony James Williams. “But I did not know anyone black who was on medication for their mental health, and asking for any form of assistance made me feel weak.” It also means making it work at work, depending on your needs. “It’s awkward to bust out a pill bottle in the middle of a small office or classroom, but it would be more awkward to have a bipolar episode at work,” writes Diamond Sharp. The Outline

    On being the great-granddaughter of an Igbo slave-trader This surprising and important piece from Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, explores the complex history of the slave trade from the Nigerian side of the equation. Some of this we already knew: Long before the Europeans took trafficking in human beings to scale, the Igbo people enslaved other Igbo people as punishment for crimes, indebtedness, or as spoils of war. But what is extraordinary to learn is the degree to which the amplification of demand impacted the community, and how the descendants of formerly enslaved Igbo people are still stigmatized to this day. For the Nigerian people who are lucky enough to know their own history, it can get complicated. “African intellectuals tend to blame the West for the slave trade, but I knew that white traders couldn’t have loaded their ships without help from Africans like my great-grandfather,” she writes. New Yorker

    Tamara El-Waylly helps produce raceAhead and assisted in the preparation of today’s summaries.

  • Quote

    SHE DOES NOT BELONG!!!! When have they ever invited ANY country singer to their BET awards… NEVER!!!!STOP IT. I bet Alan, George and Vince think CMT has gone NUTS.  —Random country music fan, angry at Beyoncé’s 2016 performance