South Bend Councilman Accuses Pete Buttigieg of Perpetuating 'Systematic Racism' as Mayor: 'He Lied to Millions of Americans'

Henry Davis Jr., a South Bend, Indiana councilman, took aim at former Mayor Pete Buttigieg's record on race in the city after the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire on Friday, accusing the candidate of perpetuating "systematic racism."

Davis Jr. ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Buttigieg as mayor in 2015, after serving two terms on the South Bend Common Council. He won a third term to the council in November and has frequently criticized Buttigieg, arguing that he failed the Midwestern city's black and brown population.

"As a Councilman in #SouthBend, I know why @PeteButtigieg looked like a deer in headlights last night when talking about systemic racism in the South Bend Police. He tolerated it, he perpetuated it, and last night he lied to millions of Americans about it," the councilman tweeted on Saturday.

As a Councilman in #SouthBend, I know why @PeteButtigieg looked like a deer in headlights last night when talking about systemic racism in the South Bend Police. He tolerated it, he perpetuated it, and last night he lied to millions of Americans about it.

— Henry Davis, Jr. (@iamhenrydavisjr) February 9, 2020

During the Friday debate, ABC News correspondent Linsey Davis asked Buttigieg to address the high arrest rate of black South Bend residents over marijuana possession during his tenure as mayor. "How do you explain the increase in black arrests in South Bend, and under your leadership, for marijuana possession?" Davis asked.

"And again, the overall was lower than the national–," Buttigieg responded.

"No, there was an increase," the correspondent interjected. "The year before you were in office it was lower. Once you came in office in 2012, that number went up. In 2018 ... that number was still up," she said.

A spokesperson for Buttigieg's campaign told Newsweek that marijuana arrests for Black residents fell for six of the seven years of Buttigieg's time as South Bend's mayor, and that arrest rates for marijuana and drug possession are usually low in the city.

"There is no question that marijuana policies need a serious overhaul and that disparities will continue to exist throughout the nation so long as laws that criminalize marijuana are on the books and systemic racism penetrates every level of our criminal justice system, which is why Pete has proposed his Douglass Plan to address systemic racism," Buttigieg's spokesperson noted, "and why he's proposed decriminalizing marijuana possession and retroactively reducing sentences for those who are incarcerated for marijuana possession."

Newsweek also reached out to Henry Davis Jr. for further comment, but he had not responded as of the time of publication.

Buttigieg addressed the issue directly during an interview with Fox News Sunday. "The problem is real," he said, pointing to his plan to decriminalize marijuana and expunging records for those convicted of marijuana possession. Noting that there are racial "disparities" in law enforcement nationwide, the presidential candidate said: "We need reform."

Pete Buttigieg responds to the racial question he dodged during Friday's debate about the justice system of South Bend when Buttigieg was mayor. #FNS #FoxNews

— FoxNewsSunday (@FoxNewsSunday) February 9, 2020

Davis Jr. has been one of Buttigieg's harshest critics in South Bend, often attacking him over his record on race and his management of the city's police force. However, the councilman has faced his own controversy over remarks and votes he's taken against the LGBTQ community.

In 2017, Davis Jr. suggested that Buttigieg, who is a married gay man, had come out to cover up controversy he was facing in South Bend. He retweeted a post about disgraced actor Kevin Spacey, who came out after facing allegations of sexual misconduct from multiple men.

"Very unsettling how Kevin Spacey used coming out as gay to distract from a sexual assault allegation with a 14- year old. Gross conflation," the original tweet by journalist Brandon Pope said. Retweeting the post, Davis Jr. wrote: "I know a Mayor who has done the same thing. Ppl will use whatever they can to get the heat off of them. It doesn't work forever. #SouthBend"

Davis Jr. also voted in 2010 and then again in 2012 to block the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the city's human rights ordinance. Although the vote failed in 2010, it passed in 2012 despite Davis Jr.'s opposition.

He later said in 2014 that his "understanding of the diversity of family, partnerships and same sex equality has evolved." The councilman also voted in favor of a South Bend city council resolution that opposed Indiana's highly controversial proposed constitutional gay marriage ban.

Pete Buttigieg
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks during the 100 Club Dinner at SNHIU on February 8 in Manchester, New Hampshire Scott Olson/Getty

Meanwhile, Buttigieg has faced significant criticism from others within South Bend's black community. The situation drew national attention after a white police officer shot and killed a black man in September. The former mayor took a break from the campaign trail to meet with resident and Black Lives Matter activists, as many publicly criticized his leadership of South Bend.

Nationally, Buttigieg has consistently performed poorly in polls with black voters. A poll by The Washington Post and Ipsos released in early January showed Buttigieg with only 2 percent support among the demographic, which is seen as vital to the success of any Democratic contender.

But Buttigieg's campaign pointed Newsweek to a December poll, commissioned by the former mayor, which showed that "a significant majority of voters of color" from South Bend supported his candidacy for president. The campaign also noted that Buttigieg placed second in the Iowa caucuses among non-white voters, according to entrance polls by ABC.