The mayor South Bend, Indiana has seen a meteoric rise as a presidential candidate in 2020. But now, Pete Buttigieg is getting a spotlight on all of his endeavors as mayor, including his demotion of an African-American police chief.
An Indiana judge will rule soon on whether to release five cassette tapes of secretly recorded conversations between South Bend police officers that led to the 2012 demotion of Police Chief Darryl Boykins, the city’s first ever black police chief.
The South Bend City Council subpoenaed Buttigieg to win release of the tapes. They were at the center of a police department shake-up and a series of lawsuits.
The critics of Buttigieg say he’s gone to great lengths to conceal the contents of the tapes, which some believe could include racist language by white police officers.
The city of South Bend has brooding anger over the allegations of racism. Black leaders in the city say that if there is evidence of racism, it could call into question scores of convictions that stemmed from white police officers investigating black suspects in a city that is 25 percent black.
Members of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH coalition met with Buttigieg in 2014 and urged him to ask for a federal investigation into allegations of police misconduct.
“There’s a level of frustration,” said Karen White, a city councilwoman and Democrat who is black. “We want this issue to be brought to closure to ensure this issue does not polarize our community further. We have a right to know [what’s on the tapes], as do our citizens.”
Buttigieg’s defenders say that he is not trying to conceal the tapes, but rather is seeking to ensure that releasing the recordings does not run against federal or state wiretapping laws. No one in the mayor’s office has listened to the recordings, sources say.
The mayor’s allies maintain that he was put in a tough spot, eager to discover whether the allegations of racism are true but not wanting to expose the city to further legal action if a judge ruled the tapes violated federal and state recording laws.
“The mayor’s stance from day one has been that he won’t do anything unless it’s cleared by a court of law,” said a Buttigieg ally. “These are serious matters. Serious allegations. His oath and his job every day is to follow the law, so that’s what he’s doing. Whatever the court decides, whether the tapes are to be released or destroyed, he’ll do that.”