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Pete Buttigieg Makes History on the Debate Stage

Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg talks climate change, South Bend police, and religious hypocrisy at the first Democratic presidential debate.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg was called to the mat to answer a question about a scandal embroiling his city during his appearance at the Democratic debate Thursday night.

Earlier this month, Eric J. Logan, a 54-year-old Black man who lived in South Bend, was fatally shot by a police officer who was wearing a body camera but did not have it on. In the wake of the shooting, Buttigieg returned to South Bend to find a reeling city, and a Black community demanding answers and action.

Moderator Rachel Maddow asked Buttigieg why the police force is only 6 percent Black in a community that is 26 percent Black.

"Because I couldn't get it done," he said. "My community is in anguish right now."

Buttigieg explained that he couldn't take a side on the issue because there is an ongoing investigation, but that "it's a mess and we're hurting," adding "when I look into his mother's eyes, nothing I can say will bring this man back."

He then spoke about how the problems in South Bend are emblematic of the relationship between police and communities of color around the country.

"It threatens the wellbeing of the country," Buttigieg said. "I'm determined to bring about a day when a white person driving in a vehicle and a black person driving in a vehicle, when they see a police officer approaching the vehicle, and they feel the same thing, and it's not fear."

The moment spurred a discussion on policing and race, first with Swalwell telling Buttigieg he should fire the police chief, and then Marianne Williamson adding the need for reparations for Black people. That then led to a pointed moment in which Kamala Harris addressed Biden's recent assertion that he's had experience working across the aisle with segregationists.

Thursday evening was history-making for Buttigieg, as the first openly gay man to participate in a presidential debate. Buttigieg has been enjoying the last several months in the top tier of candidates, and has been unveiling more concrete policy agenda in recent weeks. During the debate, Buttigieg spoke about extending access to college to more people (though not full-on student loan forgiveness or free tuition) and setting himself apart from more liberal Democrats who have said they would establish Medicare for all: "Everyone who allows the phrase Medicare for all escape from their lips needs to explain how they rationally get from here to there."

Buttigieg, a gay Episcopalian, also took on the hypocrisy of Republicans who lean on their Christian message while also condemning immigrants and detaining them at the border. "The Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion," he said. "We should call out hypocrisy when we see it. For a party that associates itself with Christianity to say that it is OK to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents -- that God would condone putting children in cages -- has lost all claim to ever use religious language again."

The 37-year-old mayor also leaned on messages about boosting the American economy by broadening technological advances as well as addressing climate change, not just in the obvious areas like the coasts and in the arctic, but even in the middle of America. He recalled having to activate emergency services in South Bend twice in two years due to catastrophic floods. "Rural America can be part of the solution instead of being told they're part of the problem," he said.

In his closing statement, during a debate that dealt minimally with LGBTQ+ rights compared with Wednesday night's, Buttigieg pointed out in his closing statement that "I have the experience of being in a marriage that is possible by a single vote on the Supreme Court."

RELATED | Is Pete Buttigieg Really What We Need for President?

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