Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has struggled to find traction among black voters, unveiled a plan Thursday to tackle systemic racism nationwide.
Dubbed “The Douglass Plan,” after African American writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, it is comprised of a series of broad goals — spanning health care, education, criminal justice, entrepreneurship, voting rights and political representation — broken down into specific policy items.
Since launching his campaign in April, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor has catapulted from relative obscurity to a top-five candidate in the crowded Democratic field. Earlier this month, his campaign announced that it had raised nearly $25 million in the second quarter in what is likely to be the largest fundraising haul of any Democratic presidential candidate.
But despite his growing national prominence, Buttigieg has struggled to make a name for himself in African American communities — a hurdle he will need to overcome to clinch the nomination. He has faced criticism for his failure to reform policing in South Bend in the wake of a police shooting of a black man in June. While he has refrained from commenting on the specific incident during an ongoing investigation, he was quick to admit responsibility for the lack of diversity in South Bend’s police department.
His low polling numbers among black voters have often been cited as the Achilles’ heel of his campaign. But in a speech at the annual convention for Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition earlier this month, Buttigieg emphasized that his focus in rolling out policy was not centered in courting black voters.
“I am asked how I’m going to earn the black vote in the polls 10 times more often than how my policies would benefit black Americans,” he said. “It’s as if I’m being asked more about how to win than how to deserve to win.”
“Despite his growing national prominence, Buttigieg has struggled to make a name for himself in African American communities — a hurdle he will need to overcome to clinch the nomination.”
In a video which accompanied the plan, he cited statistics to illustrate the inherent racial inequalities that exist across the country.
“We are not an equal society in health if black women are dying at three times the rate of white woman from maternal complications,” Buttigieg said in the video. He also highlighted that black people are four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as a white person and that black families have an average of one-seventh the wealth of white families.
“We see this across every facet of American life,” Buttigieg said. “These inequalities were created intentionally by racist policies. Reversing them will also require us to act with intention.”
His plan includes a significant increase in funding for public education; eliminating racial biases in the health care industry; strengthening infrastructure for black business owners and entrepreneurs; ending voter suppression; even providing D.C. with statehood and doing away with the electoral college.
Much of the plan centers on criminal justice reform. He proposes doubling funding for federal grants for states that commit to criminal justice reform, eliminating mandatory minimums and federal incarceration for drug possession, legalizing marijuana, establishing an independent clemency commission, supporting an amendment to do away with the death penalty and increasing federal oversight on policing, among other measures. He hopes to reduce the number of incarcerated people at both the federal and state level by 50%.
Many of these policies — from increased funding for historically black colleges and universities to increasing Pell grants, to abolishing private federal prisons and restoring voting rights to felons — are shared by most of the 2020 field and will be familiar to Democratic voters. But by packaging these policies together, he could get a second look from one of the weakest spots among his electorate — his zero to 1% support among African Americans, depending on the poll.
“Our generation can and must be the one to finally right the wrongs created by centuries of dehumanization and discrimination in this country,” Buttigieg said.