Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg faced a swipe from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Friday night over his record on addressing racial disparities in his city’s criminal justice system.
Debate moderator Linsey Davis confronted Buttigieg with the statistic that, while he was mayor, a Black man in South Bend was four times more likely than a white resident to be arrested for marijuana possession ― a greater disparity than seen either statewide or nationwide, and one that increased after he took office.
“The reality is, on my watch, drug arrests in South Bend were lower than the national average, and specifically to marijuana, lower than in Indiana,” Buttigieg said. “But there is no question that systemic racism has penetrated to every level of our system, and my city was not immune. I took a lot of heat for discussing systemic racism with my own police department, but we’ve got to confront the fact that there is no escaping how this is part of all of our policies.”
When Davis pressed him on the increased racial disparity in South Bend during his tenure, Buttigieg cited drug enforcement strategies adopted to target extreme gang violence.
“These things are all connected, but that’s the point,” he said. “So are all the things that need to change in order for us to prevent violence and remove the effects of systemic racism, not just from criminal justice but from our economy, from health, from housing and from our democracy itself.”
But Warren dismissed Buttigieg’s answer as lacking in substance.
“You have to own up to the facts. And it’s important to own up to the facts about how race has totally permeated our criminal justice system,” she said, noting studies that show Black Americans face systemically harsher treatment than whites in every facet of the system.
“But we cannot say that criminal justice is the only time we want to talk about race specifically,” Warren added, calling for “race-conscious laws” on issues like housing, where government policy has long discriminated against African Americans and other people of color. “You can’t just repeal that and say, ’OK, now everything is even ― it’s not.”