On June 16, 2019, South Bend, Indiana Sergeant Ryan O’Neill shot and killed Eric Logan, a 54-year-old father of seven, in a parking lot. O’Neill, whose body camera was turned off at the time, claimed self-defense, alleging that Logan, a black man, had pulled a knife on him when he approached to ask if the car Logan was peering into was his own. Logan’s family and local activists called foul on O’Neill’s claim, and the shooting reignited long-standing tensions between the black community and police officers in the small Indiana city.
The Logan family decided to sue the city of South Bend, calling O’Neill’s actions “objectively unreasonable and undertaken with willfulness and reckless indifference to the rights of others.” And a recent town hall to discuss the shooting, which included heated debates about the handling of the shooting and the police force’s long-contentious relationship with the black community, threw into relief a major problem for the town’s Mayor and presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg.
South Bend resident and veteran member of the South Bend Common Council Oliver Davis told the Washington Post, “[Buttigieg] skipped the family vigil, full of black residents. And then he gave a speech to the police. So how do you think that went over?”
This incident has highlighted what critics have long called Buttigieg’s “black problem” — a seeming lack of ability to connect with or even provide actionable solutions to entrenched problems facing black constituents, dating back to when he first took office in 2012. Which is perhaps why Buttigieg released The Douglass Plan, a comprehensive racial justice platform yesterday, July 11, in his bid to become the Democratic candidate for President.
Buttigieg’s team calls the plan, named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “a comprehensive and intentional dismantling of racist structures and systems combined with an equally intentional and affirmative investment of unprecedented scale in the freedom and self-determination of Black Americans.”
His plan is broken down into three overarching goals: freedom, security, and democracy. High-flying? Yes. But each goal includes numerous actionable proposals that would address inequity from various angles. Here’s what’s in the Douglass Plan.
Why racial justice?
The systemic racism baked into the American government has prevented black Americans and other communities of color from receiving adequate access to programs that would make them economically and socially happy and healthy. What do we mean when we say systemic racism? The short version: the U.S. was built thanks to chattel slavery, and though slavery ended with the Civil War, the U.S. has continued certain policies — official and unofficial — that purposefully disadvantage people of color, from the early 1900s Jim Crow laws in the south to far more recent zoning and tax laws. According to Democracy, structurally racist systems like “residential segregation result[ed] not from private choices or from mere economics, but from a long history of pervasive, intentionally discriminatory government actions.”
Systemic racism is everywhere: whether by preventing black Americans from accessing important means of wealth-building, access to health care or education, or even in the implicit biases of potential employers, teachers, police officers, and other people in positions of authority.
One telling example? Incarceration. According to Common Dreams, “While African Americans comprise 13% of the US population and 14% of monthly drug users they are 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses.”
And whether we’re talking about health — due in large part to gaps in coverage (black Americans are more likely to be uninsured) and lower quality care (in part, thanks to ingrained biases that prevent black patients from being heard), black Americans are more likely to die early — or education or even implicit biases (snap judgments based on appearances, etc.) against black Americans based on hair or clothing, racism lingers just about everywhere in this country. Given that almost 40 percent of the population is people of color, including Hispanic whites, this is a problem for everyone. Discrimination against any part of the population is a stain on us all morally. And, in a purely practical sense, it harms the country by limiting economic growth and educational potential for millions of people.