Buttigieg Would Address Racism by 'Decarcerating This Country'

By Susan Jones | February 10, 2020 | 5:30am EST
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is trying to woo black voters. (Photo by Scott Eisen/AFP via Getty Images)
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is trying to woo black voters. (Photo by Scott Eisen/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - Democrat presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg says he plans to work hard for the African American vote amid questions about race relations during his tenure as mayor of South Bend.

He promised to use the "power of the presidency to reverse the harms" inflicted by marijuana incarceration policies. Buttigieg specifically called for marijuana legalization and "decarcerating this country."

"Well, I've never been afraid to talk about the good, the bad and the indifferent that we've experienced in South Bend," Buttigieg told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.

"And when it comes to things like the systemic disparity in arrest rates and incarceration rates when it comes to marijuana, South Bend has not been immune. Now, as I was quick to point out, black residents in South Bend had a lower arrest rate for drug charges than in the state or than in the country."

"But it did go up over your tenure," Stephanopoulos reminded Buttigieg:

"Yeah, there were ups and downs in the arrest rates," Buttigieg agreed.

"And we all know, because that's part of the story of our city. It's also part of the story of a country that must legalize marijuana and end these kinds of disparities once and for all.

"We made tremendous...progress in the city of South Bend. But, of course, we didn't resolve all of these issues. And what we've got to do now is have a national effort and be ready to use the powers of the presidency to reverse the harms of the incarceration policies that I have seen traumatize a generation of kids with incarcerated parents."

Host George Stephanopoulos asked Buttigieg, "So, what's the number one thing you would do January 20th in the White House, 2021, to address that problem?"

"Well, we need to have a systemic vision for dismantling systematic racism," Buttigieg said:

I've put it forward. It's called the Douglass Plan, and it's not only about criminal justice reform, taking federal action to lead the way in decarcerating this country.

But actually, it begins with economic empowerment, making sure that we are supporting black-owned businesses, making sure that, you know, not everybody's going to go start a business, but also just have to have basic economic policies about raising wages that we know disproportionately benefit workers of color.

We've got to have economic empowerment, criminal legal system reform, and political empowerment, because part of the reasons decisions after decision after decision is made in a way that harms communities of color is that there has been systemic repression of voters of color.

That's why we need a 21st century Voting Rights Act so the kind of voter suppression we've seen cannot stand.

Buttigieg did not offer an explanation of recent voter suppression, and Stephanopoulos did not ask him for examples.

On "Fox News Sunday," Buttigieg was asked again about decriminalizing marijuana as well as other drugs:

"Mayor, you not only want to decriminalize marijuana, you want to decriminalize all drug possession," host Chris Wallace told Buttigieg on "Fox News Sunday." "But isn't the fact that it's illegal to...possess meth and heroin, doesn't that at least in some way, the fact that's it's illegal, act as a -- some deterrent to actually trying it in the first place?"

"Well, I think the main thing we need to focus on is where you have distribution and the -- the kind of harm that's done there. Well, yes, of course, it's important that it remain illegal but...possession should not be dealt with through incarceration," Buttigieg responded.

Wallace followed up: "But your website says decriminalize. It would not be illegal?"

"Yes. Or it could be a misdemeanor," Buttigieg said.

The point is not the legal niceties. The point is that we have learned through 40 years of a failed war on drugs that criminalizing addiction doesn't work. Not only that, the incarceration does more harm than the offense it's intended to deal with.

This is not saying that these substances are OK. It's saying that when somebody develops that kind of addiction, throwing them in jail or being in a situation where jail is the closet thing they'll ever get to inpatient treatment, shows a profound failure in our country's mental health and addiction treatment system. And I don't think that comes as a surprise.

The American people know that we've got to do a better job. And, frankly, expecting the law enforcement system, first responders and jails to be the frontlines of mental health is just no way to run the United States of America.

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