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Pete Buttigieg unveils agenda to help black Americans

Brittany Shepherd
National Politics Reporter
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass. (Photos: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images, National Archives and Records Administration)

Facing dismal poll numbers among African-American voters, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg released a multipronged plan Thursday addressing everything from promoting black history and culture and ensuring Washington, D.C., statehood to tackling the racial wealth gap.

He characterized the rollout as a “complement to any potential reparations proposals.”

The South Bend, Ind., mayor’s “Douglass Plan” — named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass — is sorted into three policy silos: “Freedom,” “Security” and “Democracy.” Under the heading of “Freedom” are his ideas for criminal justice reform, a now-sensitive topic for the 2020 presidential hopeful since last month’s fatal shooting of a black citizen by a white police officer in South Bend highlighted continued racial tensions in his city.

After stepping off the campaign trail to return home after the shooting, Buttigieg suffered criticism from some South Bend locals that he was simply pontificating for the cameras due to his presidential run rather than caring for his own community. “Are you really here because you care about blacks, or are you just here because you want to be the president?” one woman shouted during a press conference.

Buttigieg’s criminal justice reform plan directly addresses the issue, framing it as one deeply steeped in racial tension. “There is no national database of officer-involved shootings, but available data show that Black people are disproportionately subject to excessive force — including deadly force — from police officers,” the plan states. “This disparity is even worse when considering unarmed people killed by the police.”

Some of his ideas to hold law enforcement accountable include the creation of a federal database to track fired officers, retool the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to investigate agencies with a track record of racial profiling, and inject federal funding into body cameras. The South Bend officer’s body camera was turned off at the time of the June 16 shooting.

While it’s unclear if his plan will move the needle for black voters, some of whom are throwing early support behind party frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden, Buttigieg’s proposal is pitched as a framework for similar policies for other communities of color.

“In committing to a comprehensive plan that focuses on Black Americans, the goal of the Douglass Plan is not to ignore the specific histories and experiences that have impacted other communities of color in the United States,” the plan reads. “America’s racist structures were built to justify and perpetuate slavery, and by achieving greater equity for Black Americans we lay the groundwork for achieving greater equity for other people of color as well.”

Earlier this month, Buttigieg also attended Essence Fest, an event featuring a combination of black thought leaders, celebrities and politicians.

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