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2020 Democrats Talk Racial Equality


We have heard this morning from presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg about his plan to spend tens of billions of dollars to fight racial inequality in this country. Buttigieg has been criticized for not being able to connect with African American voters, and all that was made worse because of a police shooting of a black man in his hometown of South Bend, Ind., where he's the mayor. Here's what Buttigieg said about it during last month's debate on NBC News.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: Whatever this particular incident teaches us, we will be left with the bigger problem of the fact that there is a wall of mistrust put up one racist act at a time, not just from what's happened in the past, but from what's happening around the country in the present. It threatens the well-being of every community.

MARTIN: We've got NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid with us to talk about Buttigieg's plan and how other candidates are trying to deal with issues of race in this campaign.

Asma, thanks for being here.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Sure - happy to be there.

MARTIN: So all politics is local, right? So how have these issues that we alluded to, the issues around policing in South Bend, how has that affected the mayor's presidential campaign?

KHALID: Well, Rachel, it's really been an ongoing challenge for Buttigieg. I mean, he has a complicated history with the black voters of his city. Just a couple months after taking office, he fired South Bend's first black police chief after allegations that that chief had improperly recorded some other officers using racist language. And really, it's a really long story, and Buttigieg has said that he was pressured to fire the chief. But really, that incident affected deeply his relationship with black residents of the city. And then, you know, the police shooting you mentioned last month, that further strained his relationship.

I spoke with a black activist in the Democratic Party who told me that, you know, look, Pete Buttigieg is a smart guy. He knows that he needed to do something fast. But getting the support of black voters is not just about getting them to understand your plans. It's actually about getting them to trust you, and this police shooting does not help. She felt like this plan of his, you know, while it's ambitious, it's still really conceptual and it's not necessarily as detailed as some of what we've seen from some other candidates.

MARTIN: So let's talk more about the plan. I mean, it is ambitious. It is really big.

KHALID: That's right. And I mean, I will say, Rachel, looking at what we've seen from other candidates, this is perhaps the most comprehensive, direct appeal we've seen that really outlines an agenda for black voters. You know, he's talking about everything from, you know, abolishing the death penalty to fighting racial gerrymandering. It's really an intentional plan to dismantle racist structures. But I would say it's also kind of a philosophical intellectual treatise. It's not necessarily so relatable to people when they're looking for concrete, specific dollars and cents.

MARTIN: Right. So Buttigieg told me he didn't say these programs are a form of explicit reparations, but is that how they will be understood?

KHALID: I mean, sort of. It really depends on what you mean by reparations. And this idea of reparations is something a lot of candidates have been wrestling with. You know, Cory Booker, for example, talks about his idea of baby bonds. It's an idea that would give at least a thousand dollars to every child in the country. And Booker points out that this would help more black kids. But he's actually been criticized because it's not necessarily a race-based policy. So when we talk about reparations, I would say this is an ongoing conversation for candidates.

MARTIN: What other concrete plans have we heard from other candidates on racial equality?

KHALID: Yeah. You know, real quickly - so Kamala Harris came out with a plan around housing discrimination recently. She's committing to investing a hundred-billion dollars to provide closing cost assistance and whatnot to 4 million folks who live in historically redlined communities. And then last week, Elizabeth Warren came out with a plan to boost the wages of women of color. She's also called for $7 billion to help fund entrepreneurs of color. So I'm sure we'll hear more as well from other candidates in the weeks to come.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's political correspondent Asma Khalid for us this morning.

Thanks, Asma.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.