Buttigieg Proposes Broad Plan To Counter Racial Inequality

Jul 11, 2019
Originally published on July 11, 2019 5:02 am

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg got a really big boost to his campaign recently, announcing a staggering $24.8 million fundraising haul over the past three months.

But that hasn't changed one of the toughest realities his candidacy faces: support among black voters that barely registers in the polls.

Countering skeptics who doubt he can win crucial African American voters in the 2020 Democratic primary, Buttigieg rolled out the details of his plan to combat systemic racial inequality, named for legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass, on NPR's Morning Edition.

"If you're a white candidate, it is twice as important for you to be talking about racial inequity and not just describing the problem — which is fashionable in politics — but actually talking about what we're going to do about it and describing the outcomes we're trying to solve for," Buttigieg told NPR.

His "Douglass Plan" aims to establish a $10 billion fund for black entrepreneurs over five years, invest $25 billion in historically black colleges, legalize marijuana, expunge past drug convictions, reduce the prison population by half and pass a new Voting Rights Act to further empower the federal government to ensure voting access.

His campaign says it is equal in scale to the Marshall Plan, which used the equivalent of approximately $100 billion at current value to rebuild Europe after World War II. Buttigieg says the program would be enacted alongside potential direct reparations for slavery, not in place of it.

The two-term mayor also supports a constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty, and intends to expand the Supreme Court and eradicate the Electoral College.

Buttigieg ties these lofty goals like changing the Constitution to his campaign's central theme of generational change.

"I don't know where we got the idea that it's impossible to do these things," he said. "This is a country that changed the Constitution so you couldn't buy a drink and then changed its mind and changed it back. Are you really telling me that we are incapable of using one of the most elegant features of our constitutional system?"


Interview Highlights

On his Douglass Plan:

[The Marshall Plan] demonstrates what America can do when we're serious. America basically rebuilt Europe after World War II, and what we need to do now is an investment of comparable ambition right here at home, because what we've learned is that racist policies being replaced by neutral policies is not enough, that the inequities that we have in our country were put in intentionally by generations and sometimes centuries of racist policy. They're not going to go away just because you replace a racist system with a neutral one.

We need to intentionally invest in health, in home ownership, in entrepreneurship, in access to democracy, in economic empowerment. If we don't do these things, we shouldn't be surprised that racial inequality persists because inequalities compound. Just like a dollar saved, a dollar stolen also compounds. And I think that helps to explain the persistent racial inequality that we have in our national life today.

On reparations:

I think [the Douglass Plan] does not take the place of the conversation around reparations. I also support passing H.R. 40. I would sign it, which would create a commission to look at reparations. But I do think that this is also restorative, in the same way that reparations is intended to be. This is not a gift. This is a restoration. It is trying to address generational harms and specific intentional theft that took place.

On the death penalty:

The death penalty has been one of many examples where racial discrimination has played out. You can see it in the simple fact that someone convicted of the same crime is more likely to face the death penalty if they are black. Not to mention the very ugly history of the way that judicial and extra-judicial killings have been used to enforce white supremacy through American history.

It's time to put an end to that. It's time to join the ranks of nations that have put the ugliness of capital punishment behind them. And while I'm pleased to see states taking this step, and I believe the federal government can and should take this step, too, at the end of the day it is the kind of thing that deserves to be in our Constitution.

On his failure to diversify the South Bend police force

We have undertaken measures from partnerships with local high schools, to community job fairs, to even bringing in behavioral researchers to help us assess which recruiting messages will draw the most applicants from communities of color.

But at a time when the policing profession as a whole is, I think, struggling with a crisis of identity and people hesitating to want to join it, plus the fact that fewer and fewer people of color, certainly black teenagers, look at law enforcement and think 'this is a career for me,' there are colossal obstacles, not only in South Bend. But I accept responsibility for the fact that we've got a long way to go in our city.

On engaging white Americans in the conversation around racism

I think we'll know we're getting somewhere when this is not regarded as some specialty issue that candidates of color talk about or that we only talk about when addressing voters of color. This is a conversation that, frankly, white America needs to have too, because white America needs to face the roots of these inequities and the fact of systemic racism all around us. It's the air we breathe.

I had a challenging conversation with our own police department where, when I talked about systemic racism in addressing officers, many of them felt that it was a personal attack. I need them to understand, especially white officers, the ways in which, no matter how good their intentions might be, that systemic racism is something they in particular need to be conscious of and need to understand how to be part of the solution on. So this is not something that only candidates of color should be talking about — very much to the contrary.

On winning over religious conservative voters

I think there are a lot of thoughtful and compassionate religious people who, maybe have thought of themselves as conservative, but who are looking at what's happening right now and asking some very deep and searching questions about where their values and their principles lead them, and what I found in terms of what's turned the tide on things like LGBTQ equality is the idea of compassion, the idea of empathy.

My personal experience is that I have come to feel closer to God in the context of my marriage. But that's just my own story. The bigger story is that we are better human beings when we consider one another through the lens of how we would want to be treated as, again, secular and religious traditions teach us to do. And I think in that lens, a great many people who may be disoriented by the pace of change on LGBTQ equality can find their way to the right side of history.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Pete Buttigieg has surpassed a lot of expectations. He's done well in early polls and has raised a lot of money. But earlier this summer, his presidential campaign was waylaid by a police shooting in South Bend, Ind., where he is in his second term as mayor. A white police officer shot and killed a black man. And many residents there blame the mayor for not addressing racial divides in the city.

And overall, Buttigieg has had a hard time getting traction with black voters. He is now trying to fix that with a new plan out today named after Frederick Douglass. It calls for a new Voting Rights Act and massive investments in education, health and homeownership.

In an exclusive conversation, Pete Buttigieg says the proposal is as ambitious as the Marshall Plan.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: America basically rebuilt Europe after World War II, and what we need to do now is an investment of comparable ambition right here at home. Because what we've learned is that the inequities that we have in our country were put in intentionally by generations and sometimes centuries of racist policy. They're not going to go away just because you replace a racist system with a neutral one.

We need to intentionally invest in health, in homeownership, in entrepreneurship, in access to democracy. If we don't do these things, we shouldn't be surprised that racial inequality persists because inequalities compound just like a dollar saved. A dollar stolen also compounds.

MARTIN: Is what you're proposing a form of reparations for black Americans?

BUTTIGIEG: I think this does not take the place of the conversation around reparations. I also support passing HR 40 I would sign it, which would create a commission to look at reparations. But I do think that this is also restorative in the same way that reparations is intended to be. This is not a gift; this is a restoration. It is trying to address generational harms and specific intentional theft that took place.

You look at something like health. You can basically quantify the health impacts of racism. You see it in the fact that a black woman is three times as likely to die in childbirth as a white mother. You see it in different rates of diabetes and life expectancy itself. This is a measurable cost of racism in health.

You can point to the same thing in income, in housing, across the board. And if we're not investing very specifically to deal with that, we can continue to expect to see these inequalities to persist.

MARTIN: You are also arguing for a constitutional amendment that would ban the death penalty.

BUTTIGIEG: That's right.

MARTIN: Why is this part of a plan to empower black America?

BUTTIGIEG: Because the death penalty has been one of many examples where racial discrimination has played out. You can see it in the simple fact that someone convicted of the same crime is more likely to face the death penalty if they are black - not to mention the very ugly history of the way that judicial and extrajudicial killings have been used to enforce white supremacy through American history. It's time to put an end to that.

It's time to join the ranks of nations that have put the ugliness of capital punishment behind them. And while I'm pleased to see states taking this step, and I believe the federal government can and should take this step too, at the end of the day, it is the kind of thing that deserves to be in our Constitution.

MARTIN: You know that is highly unlikely.

BUTTIGIEG: You know, people all the time tell me that the constitutional amendments we're talking about are unlikely because this hasn't happened in my lifetime. We started talking about it like it's impossible. This is a country that changed the Constitution so you couldn't buy a drink and then changed its mind and changed it back. Are you really telling me that we are incapable of using one of the most elegant features of our constitutional system?

Yes, it might take time. It might take a long time. It might - the effort to do that might outlast a presidency. If that's true, all the more reason to begin this now so that we can see results in my lifetime.

MARTIN: So this is a hugely ambitious proposal that you are laying out now. And there will be people who ask, why is it that a two-term mayor of South Bend, Ind. - a town that many Americans won't have even heard of - a white guy, is the person who can heal America's deepest wound that has caused hundreds of years of inequities?

BUTTIGIEG: Frankly, it's twice as important. If you're a white candidate, it is twice as important for you to be talking about racial inequity and not just describing the problem which is fashionable in politics but actually talking about what we're going to do about it and describing the outcomes we're trying to solve for. I think we'll know we're getting somewhere when this is not regarded as some specialty issue that candidates of color talk about or that we only talk about when addressing voters of color.

This is a conversation that, frankly, white America needs to have too because white America needs to face the roots of these inequities and the fact of systemic racism all around us. It's the air we breathe.

MARTIN: Have you taken implicit bias training?

BUTTIGIEG: I did a short session and hope to do more. We've also rolled out diversity awareness profile training for our police officers. We did that a few years ago and continue to undertake these things because this, again, is very much in the air we breathe. And for too long, I think, the conversation about race has been about the conscious intentions of a lot of white people, frankly, who therefore think, well, I'm not racist. Of course, implicit bias training has revealed all the ways in which we all, or almost all, have all kinds of racial biases.

But what the Trump administration has exposed is that we also got a lot of work to do when it comes to confronting explicit bias. And we shouldn't use the implicit bias framework as a pass for dealing with the naked racism that is all around us. We've got to deal with both.

MARTIN: What can you point to in your own record that exemplifies some of the aspirational policies that you're laying out in this so-called Douglass Plan?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, every time we have a conversation in South Bend about something like policing, for example, we wind up also finding ourselves talking about economic empowerment and how all of these things are connected. In South Bend, we've invested in improving the quality of neighborhoods where low-income residents, often black residents, had been forced to live with collapsing houses next door to them for years or decades. And so the city very ambitiously worked to address these properties and improve them in those neighborhoods.

MARTIN: Although, you were criticized for that ambition. I mean, longtime black residents of South Bend said you didn't consider them, they weren't invited to the table in discussing the process and that there were a whole host of negative impacts of taking down that many houses, dilapidated houses, that quickly.

BUTTIGIEG: Most residents and most black residents supported this initiative but, of course, not all of them. Now we had dozens of public conversations about this - sessions where residents were able to share their input. And the whole reason we did this was that residents of neighborhoods, especially mostly minority neighborhoods, were saying, what is taking the city so long?

They drew the conclusion that because the city hadn't addressed these vacant and crumbling properties next door to them, that it meant that the city didn't care. And I thought it was important to apply more resources to deal with the issue.

Now, certainly, over the years, through dialogue with community groups, we learned about ways to make sure things like code enforcement were collaborative rather than punitive whenever possible. But at the end of the day, this is an example of how we were able to improve life in many of our neighborhoods that had been most disinvested.

MARTIN: Presidential hopeful, Mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg, thanks for your time.

BUTTIGIEG: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.