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On debate stage, Buttigieg discusses police shooting at home :: Miami Herald

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Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg expounds on his views about "religious hypocrisy" during the second day of the NBC Democratic Presidential Primary Debates for the 2020 elections on June 27, 2019.

The wunderkind mayor with the funny last name has been steadily rising in the polls, claiming his stake as the Democratic darling in national media and the party alike.

But when South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (pronounced Boot-edge-edge) took the biggest stage of his career Thursday night, he had to address recent problems that go deeper than some of his campaign promises of an expanded Medicare and student loan refinancing program.

He had to talk about his community: a community in mourning.

Mayor Pete, as many call him, is the leader of a city which has a mostly white police force. The police force made news recently after a white officer shot a black man, which did not help the mayor at a time when his lack of support among minority voters has become an issue.

When asked why he hadn't been able to increase the percentage of black police officers during his two terms as mayor, he responded bluntly, "I couldn't get it done," bringing a sense of gravity to the loud and crowded debate stage.

The family of Eric Logan, the 54-year-old man who was killed, filed a federal lawsuit this week against the city and the officer involved in the shooting, accusing him of using excessive deadly force. Buttigieg left the campaign trail for several days after the June 16 shooting to deal with the reaction and address a protest rally where he was criticized by some in the crowd.

"My community is in anguish right now because of an officer-involved shooting," Buttigieg said on stage. "It's a mess and we're hurting ... When I look into his mother's eyes, I have to face the fact that nothing I can say will bring him back."

He clarified that the issue of gun violence and racism in police forces is a national one, and that "until we move policing out from the shadow of systemic racism ... we will be left with a bigger problem."

Buttigieg pointed out that while the city has mandatory bias training and de-escalation training, it did not save a life.

"There is a wall of mistrust put up one racist act at a time ... it threatens the well being of every community," he said.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper pressed Buttigieg as to why, five years after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, every city hasn't changed its policies.

Buttigieg repeated the steps South Bend has taken for police accountability.

"I accept responsibility," he said. "Under Indiana law, this will be investigated, and there will be accountability for the officer involved."

Hickenlooper then asked why Buttigieg hasn't fired the police chief, but Buttigieg was cut off by author Marianne Williamson and didn't get a chance to answer.

Lis Smith, a senior adviser to Buttigieg, said once the investigation into the shooting is complete, he'll make "a series of decisions." She said he'll continue to be there for his community, but use the experience to elevate the issue into the national dialogue.

"There's a national epidemic when it comes to these shootings," she said. "When you are president, you have to deal with a lot of issues at once ... he's got to get this right."

At 37, Buttigieg is the youngest candidate in the race, and stood Thursday among two front-runners (Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders) who are more than twice his age. He is also the only openly gay candidate, married to schoolteacher Chasten Glezman Buttigieg.

He says all of these things - being young, gay, a veteran who served in Afghanistan - make him experienced to take on the issues that he says matter most to Americans.

"Nothing about politics is theoretical for me," he said. "When I get to the current age of the current president in the year 2055, I want to look back on these years and say my generation delivered climate solutions, racial equality and an end to endless war."

While he is polling in the in a crowded race, a recent Change Research poll for the Charleston Post and Courier found Buttigieg polling at 0 percent with African-American voters in South Carolina, a key primary state.

Tampa attorney Sean Shaw, the first black attorney general nominee in Florida history, came through which a much-needed endorsement of Buttigieg last month. He came to Miami Thursday as a guest of the campaign.

Shaw, who said he first took note of the candidate at the Fox Town Hall, told the Miami Herald that Buttigieg is the antithesis of Donald Trump, which he finds refreshing.

"He makes me hopeful again. In the time of Trump, it's hard to be that," he said. "This is a touchy-feely type of thing."

He added that while Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's consumer protection ideas and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke's immigration reform pitches appeal to him, Mayor Pete "speaks to my heart."

The shooting came up again later in the debate, when candidates were asked to talk about gun safety.

Buttigieg, who served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve as an intelligence officer and deployed to Afghanistan for seven months in 2014, pointed out that assault weapons have no place in American cities, which already experience too much gun violence. Earlier Thursday evening he was endorsed by both Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, the leaders of two cities who have experienced deadly shootings in the last two years .

Last year in South Bend, a city of about 100,000 people, there were 78 shootings in total.

"This is tearing communities apart," he said. "If more guns made us safer, we would be the safest country on Earth. It doesn't work that way."