Buttigieg, while speaking at the 2019 National Action Network Convention in New York City, outlined his vision for reforming the criminal justice system if elected president, which includes ending capital punishment.
“As we work to end mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses, as we work to put an end to prolonged solitary confinement, which is a form of torture,” he said, “here too we must be intentional about fixing disparities that have strong and deeply unfair racial consequences.”
He added: “Speaking of sentencing disparities, it is time to face the simple fact that capital punishment as seen in America has always been a discriminatory practice and we would be a fairer and safer country when we join the ranks of modern nations who have abolished the death penalty.”
Buttigieg joins several other high-profile Democrats, including many 2020 candidates, who have called for an end to the death penalty. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ― all presidential hopefuls ― applauded California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision last month to halt executions in his state.
“The death penalty is immoral, discriminatory, ineffective, and proven to be unequally applied,” Harris tweeted following Newsom’s announcement in March.
The death penalty in the U.S. disproportionately impacts people of color. Black people make up 13 percent of the population, yet 42 percent of death row and 35 percent of those executed, according to the NAACP.
Buttigieg on Thursday joined several other 2020 Democratic hopefuls in declaring his support for restoring the voting rights of ex-felons, calling it “the right thing to do.”
Like Beto O’Rourke on Wednesday, Buttigieg also said if he were president he would sign a bill from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) to create a commission to study and develop reparations for the black community.
Hours later, Buttigieg took some heat on social media over his comments at the NAN convention proclaiming “black lives matter,” given his previous remarks on the matter.
“We insist that being pro-minority and being pro-racial justice not only can but must be compatible with being pro-rule of law,” Buttigieg said Thursday. “[It] should go without saying but in these times must be said clearly and again and again that black lives matter.”
Critics pointed out that Buttigieg, during a March 2015 “State of the City” speech in South Bend, addressed two local police controversies by saying that “all lives matter,” CNBC reported.
“There is no contradiction between respecting the risks that police officers take every day in order to protect this community, and recognizing the need to overcome the biases implicit in a justice system,” he had said. “We need to take both those things seriously, for the simple and profound reason that all lives matter.”
Black Lives Matter activists say the phrase “all lives matter” dismisses the fact that black people are too often brutalized by police and the criminal justice system generally.
“The Mayor’s comment was in the context of discussing racial reconciliation in his 2015 State of the City speech,” Lis Smith, a spokesperson for Buttigieg, said in a statement. “He believes black lives matter and that has been reflected in his actions as mayor of South Bend.”
Smith did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for further comment.
This story has been updated with more background information and details about Buttigieg’s March 2015 speech.