Mayor Pete Buttigieg's Amateur Night
Eric Logan was a man. The 54-year-old grandfather from South Bend, Indiana, had a life and loved ones who mourn him. Like too many black men, he died after an encounter with police. But he was more than just the inciting incident in someone else's story. Let's never forget that for an instant.
We appreciate why this is different from so many other recent police shootings. The mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, is a rising star in the Democratic Party, whose insurgent campaign for the presidency had taken off. This month, an Iowa poll had him all but tied with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren behind Joe Biden. Then came the police shooting, under questionable circumstances. We don't fully know what happened and likely never will because the officer didn't have his body camera turned on.
Buttigieg left the campaign trail briefly to manage the situation. It is fair to say that it's not gone well. He's been hammered by both sides of the "should we shoot black people?" debate. His fresh-faced youth, once a great asset, seems to work against him. He resembles an assistant manager at a retail store trying to handle a customer complaint, but this is more serious than a broken vacuum cleaner.
There's this cringe-inducing moment when Buttigieg addressed concerns from black community members, who were upset and angry. He read from a list of their demands, but it looked like he was giving a prepared statement. The exchange was like a failed first contact with a new race on "Star Trek."
Buttigieg's relationship with black voters has been described as "chilly," and black folks don't like the cold. He was polling at zero percent with black voters in South Carolina last month. The New York Times framed Buttigieg's struggle with us thusly:
It has been one of the biggest challenges for Pete Buttigieg since he began his improbable presidential campaign in January: Could the Harvard-educated mayor of South Bend, who often comes across like the brainy technocrat he once was as a McKinsey & Company consultant, build a following among black voters, one of the Democratic Party's most vital constituencies?
Duh, can smarty pants nerd connect with us black people and our hippety-hop? The Obamas both went to Harvard and are certifiably "brainy." We still dug them. We don't think it's Buttigieg's resume that's the problem. The good news, though, is that a lot of black people showed up for his town hall event Sunday. The bad news is that they were all yelling at him.
This could've been great news for John McCain, but Buttigieg didn't rise to the moment. He didn't even get up from his chair that often. The crowd heckled him like he was bombing on Amateur Night at the Apollo. People in the audience shouted "liar!" and he wasn't even giving the State of the Union. Someone else yelled, "We don't trust you!"
Buttigieg didn't help matters when he declared that if any officer was ever found to be racist, they'd lose their job immediately. The mayor's past actions contradict this statement. In 2012, he fired the city's first black police chief, Darryl Boykins, who had taped white cops using racist language. They'd even used racist language about him like he was starring in Blazing Saddles. The recordings might've been improper but so is racism ... we guess. Still, Boykins was the only one fired. This is what brother Malcolm might call a "chickens coming home to roost" moment because Buttigieg is already on record as taking decisive action against the police, even the highest-ranking.
It's not a fair comparison because Beto O'Rourke was not the Dallas mayor when (thankfully, now-former) police officer Amber Guyger shot Botham Jean in his own apartment. But, man, did Beto tear the roof off the sucker when he spoke to a black church about the shooting. That's what black voters wanted to see.
Buttigieg expressed his "disappointment" that Sgt. Ryan O'Neill didn't have his body camera turned on. However, we doubt O'Neill is disappointed. There's no evidence to dispute his claim that Logan advanced on him with a knife and wouldn't drop it when ordered. No one imagines that O'Neill will be charged or even lose his job. Oscar-winning footage of police shootings rarely lead to indictments, so no footage means no accountability. Maybe Buttigieg shouldn't have fired that police chief.
The usual gang of idiots at "Fox & Friends" were also disappointed. They thought Buttigieg's town hall performance could've used more cow bell. They weren't looking for a Beto moment, but we imagine they would've appreciated a Sister Souljah one where the mayor commanded the situation and put uppity black people in their place.
BRIAN KILMEADE: He looked overwhelmed by the moment. He looked small when he needed to look big. He seemed detached from the community – what was going on in his mind, we didn't know because he didn't do much talking.
RACHEL CAMPOS-DUFFY: I was really surprised to see him sitting behind a desk. I've never seen my husband ever hold a town hall like that. He's always standing up. He's engaged. ... [Buttigieg's] body language looked weak and out of control.
Duffy's husband is Rep. Sean Duffy, who was a "Hillary Clinton is dying because she coughed once" truther. But, hey, at least his body language is rock solid.
Maybe Buttigieg will recover politically from all this. But that's not what's important. A man is a dead and his family will likely never receive a satisfying answer for why he's no longer alive. That should matter more than a still living mayor's presidential aspirations.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).