I have stated in the past that in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama did not get my vote just because he was black, he earned it. Similarly, Mayor Peter Buttigieg will not get my vote just because he is gay. He, too, will have to earn it.
It seems that recently quite a few of my white, gay male friends have grown annoyed at me over articles about Mayor Pete, some claiming that the I and the public are being overtly hostile to him and holding him to a higher standard. They say he is being targeted. I argue that gay men are perhaps just hypersensitive to it because they have a vested interest in the possibility of an openly gay candidate winning the presidential office.
My perspective, however, is that of a black gay man and proud registered Democrat. It is one derived not by the thoughtless emotive response but rather research and gathering as much information I can, available from reputable sources to help me reach an informed decision.
Joe Biden could make the same claim of being targeted by the media, especially as the oldest candidate running. Ageism surely exists, and Biden has not been immune to it. His stamina and mental clarity are challenged at each turn, and every time he opens his mouth, and something crazy comes out, the press runs with it, blasting on all cylinders, even assigning Biden the moniker of “Human Gaff Machine.”
So Buttigieg is treated no differently than Biden, who is seemingly the current leader in the field of candidates and most likely to be the nominee.
I urge white people, white gay men specifically, who are very excited about the prospect of the first openly President, to revel in the marvel of the moment, but not be dismissive of how gay men of color feel about Pete Buttigieg as we continue to assess and form our opinions about him. Contrary to a recent article at Insider.com, Buttigieg’s issue of complicated race relations is not a ‘creation of the media.‘
The lens through which black gay men and white gay men view Buttigieg is and always will be different. It is somewhat condescending to chastise African Americans for highlighting Buttigieg’s very real, tumultuous past with race relations as we demand his accountability and efforts for him to do better.
That said, I have grown more impressed lately with him on the campaign trail, inclusive of finally committing to quality media buys and public meetings in various black communities within the south. But is it too little too late?
His efforts to connect with African Americans are resulting in a slightly rising poll number within that demographic. I’m happy to report that news but it doesn’t mean I will ignore the countless black citizens of South Bend who have continued to voice frustration with what they saw as Buttigiegs’s inaction in dealing with police brutality and harassment within his city. That matter is essential to me as it is reflective of how he would handle such issues on a national level.
Take, for example, the Logan tragedy in South Bend. Resident Eric Logan was unarmed and shot and killed by a police officer. Reportedly cops were responding to a report of a man trying to steal a car. Breaking protocol, the officer who murdered Logan, turned off his body cam first before shooting. Many argue that detail alone should have warranted termination, but the officer was instead put on paid leave pending “investigation,” and the city erupted, demanding justice.
In 2012 South Bend City Council Member Henry Davis Jr wrote a letter to the Justice Department asking for an investigation into the Logan case and what he saw as systemic police violence against black citizens. He also accused the Buttigieg administration of “sweeping it under the rug” and further accused the police of retaliation.
According to The Guardian:
In his letter to the justice department, Davis, who is once again running for council and likely to win a seat in November, also noted that an unarmed black man died in police custody in 2012. Davis said he was harassed by the department’s white officers after sending the letter, including one incident in which police pulled him over and drew guns on him.
Despite the four officers being caught on tape, they decided to sue Davis for libel – but tellingly, they did not dispute his claim, but instead argued Davis did not have the authority to send the letter to the DOJ on city council letterhead. I mean seriously? Really?
The Buttigieg administration’s attorneys refused to represent Davis in the suit, a suit where Davis believes city attorneys were obligated to defend him. He sued the city of South Bend, and ultimately a settlement was reached, which included a gaga order. He rejected the agreement and fought for damages as well as the freedom to publicly discuss his case.
Adding to Davis’ cover-up and retaliation claim was the peculiar matter involving Shirley Newbill, the mother of Eric Logan. Newbill sued the city of South Bend for the wrongful death of her son. On two separate occasions since Logan’s death, Newbill’s cars were set on fire in front of her home. After investigations, both the Fire and Police Departments of South Bend concluded engine fires caused both occurrences. This grew further suspicion since, in both incidents, the cars had been turned off, parked and not driven for several hours. Under Buttigieg, the city refused to investigate the incidents as suspected arson.
I want to be clear here. In the incidents mentioned above are robust, however, I do not place the blame of other’s actions on Buttigieg. It is his response to the matters though where he seemingly lost the confidence of his black constituents.
In 2012’s sea of swirling racial turmoil in South bend, Buttigieg’s timing could not have been worse than when he demoted the city’s first black Police Chief Darryl Boykins for poorly handling dispatch calls while the white officer who killed Eric Logan remained employed and on the payroll. Already facing public cries of a lack of diversity on the police force, the percentage of black officers in South Bend soon thereafter fell from 10% to 5% between 2014 to 2018.
Today, I commend Buttigieg for acknowledging that the lack of diversity in the police force is a personal failure of his tenure. He admits he “couldn’t get it done.” He owns it and has vowed to change it. His acknowledgment, accountability, and response to adversity make all the difference in building public confidence. This is how trust is earned.
I am extremely cautious not to make Mayor Pete the scapegoat for America’s troubled history with race. Mayors, Governors, and the President inherit all of that history upon his or her first day in office. However, it is what they do to change America’s trajectory for the better that will draw either adoration or the ire of disdain. Michael Patton, President of the NAACP South Bend Chapter, has become a strong ally to Buttigieg and has helped to assemble a team of community leaders to assist the mayor in address the racial challenges. Will it make a difference is anyone’s guess but Joe Biden has strong ties to the African American community so Buttigieg’s might be fighting an uphill battle there.
If we are to look solely at a person’s history in office, Buttigieg has some real issues to overcome with black voters. Lately, though, his policy proposals addressing economic, racial disparity, and justice matters have black voters listening more closely to what he has to say. That fuels my optimism about his ability to win over black voters but again, I ask is there enough time to do so before the upcoming election?
Though slowly, it does seem Mayor Pete is gaining a little traction with black voters. I hope it continues so we can celebrate all of his impressive qualities and accomplishments, further dispelling the myth that Buttigieg is doing poorly with black people because ‘black people are homophobic.’ Buttigieg’s issues with black voters have very little to do with who he’s sleeping with.
There are over 50 million African Americans in the country – among them; millions are gay. If black people were monolithically homophobic, Buttigieg would have never gotten the black vote in South Bend in the first place, which allowed him to win his Mayoral race in 2011.
This piece is an opinion piece by one Contributing Writer for Instinct Magazine and may not reflect the opinion of the magazine or other Contributing Writers.