For the second time this weekend, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski faced high emotions, shouts and heated calls for change after the fatal shooting of Eric Logan by a city officer.
One of the biggest themes of a town hall the mayor organized at Washington High School on Sunday: the frustration that previous calls for reform have been ignored, and that not enough is being done to address a growing mistrust of police in the city.
There were questions about the department’s body cameras. There were calls for an outside investigation of the department. One woman demanded that all racist police officers be fired by Friday.
“Get the people that are racists off the streets,” she said. “You can do that.”
Many made sure their voices were heard, often shouting over the mayor’s answers, calling him a liar or demanding that Ruszkowski be fired. When the crowd was asked to hold its anger, Komaneach Wheeler stood up and shouted “A mother of injustice cannot hold her anger!”
Some of the questions were pointed squarely at Buttigieg, whose run for president has put the Logan shooting and ensuing reaction in the national spotlight.
“How can we trust this process?” Blu Casey, a local activist, asked the mayor. “How are we supposed to trust you?”
Buttigieg at one point admitted that he had failed to bring greater diversity to the Police Department, where 5% of the officers are African-American, though he said it wasn’t for a lack of effort as he mentioned some initiatives the city undertook or is exploring.
“I promise you, we have tried everything we can think of,” he said.
Long-simmering tensions have come to a boil after the shooting of Logan by Sgt. Ryan O’Neill in the parking lot of the Central High Apartments. While responding to a call that someone was breaking into vehicles, O’Neill confronted Logan, who has said Logan approached him with a raised knife.
Buttigieg and Ruszkowski faced raw emotions on Friday night, when they attended a protest outside Police Department headquarters.
On Sunday afternoon, the crowd that gathered in the auditorium of Washington High School was mixed with Buttigieg supporters and those just wanting to observe.
“I know people aren’t going to walk out of this room satisfied,” Buttigieg told the crowd at one point. “We are here to have tough conversations, but I want everyone here to be empowered, and I want voices to be heard.”
Emotions ran so high at times, people in the audience began yelling at one another in disagreement. When the town hall was opened for public comments, a representative of the Rev. Al Sharpton took the microphone. He was quickly met with boos as people in the crowd said the issue was South Bend’s to confront and they didn’t want to hear from him. The man soon passed the microphone on to someone else.
Several activists in recent days have asked that a special prosecutor handle the case of Logan’s shooting. Buttigieg on Sunday earned applause when he said he agreed with the need for an outside review and that he passed along the recommendation to St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter, who oversees the Metro Homicide Unit currently investigating the shooting. Cotter would have to ask a judge to appoint a special prosecutor, and he said last week that he is still considering the idea.
Councilwoman Regina Williams-Preston took to the microphone to tell Buttigieg that he needs to start hearing from a wider set of voices, not the same people he has traditionally turned to.
“I think it’s time you rethink who you think the leaders are in this black community,” Williams-Preston said.
She also asked for something she and other council members have pushed for years: a citizen review board to help oversee police issues.
“How long before you take action and you respond to what the community has been asking for?” she said.
Buttigieg, in response, said he welcomed more voices but pointed out that some people he has reached out to have not shown up for meetings with him.
“Please accept the invitation,” he said. “That seat at the table is waiting for you.”
Toward the end of the town hall, a woman stood to tell the mayor about her 7-year-old grandson, whom she brought with her. Her grandson, she said, is afraid of police officers. Buttigieg told her he is trying to work for the day when a black person and a white person feel no fear when they encounter an officer.
“I’m doing everything I know to fix it. Obviously we are not there yet, but we can’t do it alone,” he said. “We can’t do it without the community. But I believe in the community.”
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