LOS ANGELES (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg urged students Thursday to speak out against racial bias when they experience it or witness it, and he faulted President Donald Trump for deepening the nation’s racial divide.
The South Bend, Indiana, mayor fielded a series of questions about race relations after encountering a group of Midwestern students in Los Angeles while he was on a tour of a business that was co-founded by the late rapper Nipsey Hussle.
His visit into a historically black neighborhood came about a month after he faced jeers from some black residents in his hometown following the fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer.
The apparently unplanned encounter Thursday with the group of mostly black students gave Buttigieg the opportunity to reflect on the shooting, as well as listen to their concerns about ongoing racial friction in cities and schools. The group was on a tour of California technology companies and other businesses.
Joshua Rodgers, 15, a sophomore in Noblesville, Indiana, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) south of South Bend, told the mayor he lived with “racial tension” in a school in which blacks account for 5 percent of the student body. He said he had been called racial slurs to his face.
Rodgers lamented he had nowhere to go to express his concerns “and say what happened to us.”
Buttigieg said he was sorry and embarrassed to hear his story, adding the same tensions exist in South Bend.
“I think there are a lot of people who thought that problems was fixed, and are obviously wrong,” he said.
The mayor urged the young people to speak up at City Council and school board meetings and “find ways to tell that story, to make sure people understand that truth” — pointing to protests against gun violence.
Buttigieg’s visit was squeezed in on a long day of fundraising — a typical pattern for presidential candidates in California, one of the nation’s fonts of campaign cash.
He began his day at a breakfast organized by investment banker Navid Mahmoodzadegan, where tickets were priced up to $2,800. A lunchtime fundraiser was organized by former ambassador Nicole Avant and filmmaker Jill Goldman, among others. An evening event was scheduled at the home of media and entertainment executive Kevin MacLellan, where co-hosts included Chelsea Handler and Ellen DeGeneres.
Talking with reporters after meeting with the students, the mayor referred to the shooting in his hometown, adding that trust must be restored between people of color and those responsible for protecting them.
It goes beyond anguish for a lost life, Buttigieg said, and “touches on the feeling of so many that law enforcement is not there to keep them safe but is in fact a danger to them.”
He asked how anyone could listen to the students’ stories of racial division “and not realize just how much trouble we are in. And obviously we’ve got a president who is making it worse.”
David Gross, co-founder of the work-space business with Hussle, said Democratic candidates should not assume the black vote will turn out in November 2020. He said voters want to hear from the candidates, and he credited the mayor for his willingness to take on uncomfortable questions about racial friction and bias.
Too often with candidates “we are viewed as this monolithic bloc that people can take for granted and they can speak to a few issues and think they’ve checked the boxes for this community,” Gross said.
Black voters want to know they are not being taken for granted, Gross said, “which was shown in the last election we cannot do.”