McBride, a city council member, is black. The man who interrupted her, she said, is not.
His protest, which she called “demeaning,” has added new fuel to an already heated conversation about the Democratic presidential candidate’s tenuous relationship with African Americans, from low polling numbers among black voters to a contested record at home in Indiana.
This time, however, the incident involved an unusual role reversal: Where black residents of South Bend had once confronted their white mayor, here was a black woman standing up for him and getting heckled herself — in an exchange that she labeled “a form of bigotry."
“People can have their opinions and their views,” McBride told The Washington Post. “But for them to be disrespectful, when it comes to snatching mics and shoving, is just a disgrace to our city."
As McBride was discussing Buttigieg’s efforts to build affordable housing in her ward, the man — whom she identified as a local activist — began shouting and making reference to the city’s long-standing fight over a police wiretap.
“There is a police crisis in this town,” he boomed. “Why are we talking about Pete Buttigieg? What kind of nonsense is this?”
One woman in the audience seemed to rush at him, ready to strike with her cane. However, he rushed to take the microphone off the lectern and shifted away, leading about a dozen other demonstrators as they chanted, “This is a farce!”
As Buttigieg has gained traction among white voters, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire, he has struggled to replicate the same kind of success with black voters in states like South Carolina.
At home, meanwhile, he has faced scrutiny over his record serving the black community in South Bend, which includes his support of housing policies that critics say displaced African Americans from their homes. Others have disputed his claims that he cut the city’s black poverty rate in half.
Perhaps most notably, after a police officer fatally shot a black man in South Bend in June, black residents booed Buttigieg at a town hall and called him a “liar."
McBride said she organized Wednesday’s event with other African American leaders in South Bend, including several pastors and other council members, to counteract the “false media narrative” that their mayor has struggled to find support among the city’s black community.
The town hall, a gathering of about 75 people at a youth center, was not a formal Buttigieg campaign event and not meant as endorsement, according to the South Bend Tribune. But it was attended by a top aide and at least eight other staffers from his campaign, which sent out a news release about the event.
“You wake up every morning and you hear on the national news that there’s no minority support in South Bend,” said McBride, who recently accompanied the candidate on a campaign trip to Allendale County, S.C. “But there is support. Tonight was about some African American leaders speaking in support of Mayor Pete and sharing our experiences."
If anything, criticism on black issues at the national level has only intensified as Buttigieg has shot up in the polls. In recent weeks, he has faced backlash for suggesting that being gay helps him relate to the struggles of African Americans, for allegedly misrepresenting the black leaders who supported a proposal aimed at the “empowerment of black America” and for promoting that plan alongside stock photos taken in Kenya.
So campaign staffers were quick to comment on the brawl. Nina Smith, Buttigieg’s traveling press secretary, said the real-life comments were indicative of the kind of backlash that his black supporters tend to experience on social media.
“White men, grabbing the mic, insulting us, calling us ‘uppity’ ‘purchased’ and ‘tokens’ all in support of certain white male candidates,” Smith wrote on Twitter. “Careful YOUR racism is showing.”
This is what Black folks who support Pete experience all the time on Twitter. White men, grabbing the mic, insulting us, calling us “uppity” “purchased” and “tokens” all in support of certain white male candidates. Careful YOUR racism is showing. https://t.co/XfqrLQQp2m— Nina Smith (@ninasophia81) December 5, 2019
Lis Smith, the campaign’s senior communications adviser, also used the incident to take a jab at another Democratic primary front-runner.
“It’s deeply depressing that @BernieSanders’ supporters have gone from harassing @PeteButtigieg’s staffers of color online to harassing our supporters of color in real life, but here we are,” she wrote on Twitter.
The protesters carried signs saying “Black Lives Matter,” though the South Bend chapter of that group did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment about whether they organized the demonstration.
One of the protesters was photographed wearing a Sanders hat. The Vermont senator’s campaign later condemned the disturbance in a statement to The Post, saying it “does not support the disruption of any candidates’ events.”
Many in the audience shared that sentiment.
“I think some people complain just for the sake of complaining sometimes,” Solomon Anderson, a South Bend resident in the crowd, told WBND. “And they don’t have any solutions. They don’t have any answers.”
Gladys Muhammad, a community organizer who was reportedly shoved during the altercation, said the event was still a success.
“Pete’s not perfect, but he has done a lot of good things for South Bend,” she said. “And the African American community wanted people to hear that.”
As for McBride? She was quick to respond to the man who interrupted her — and attacked her choice of clothing — in the heat of the moment.
“I happen to be a black leader with a leather jacket on,” she told the man, to cheers from the audience. “And one thing that you will not do with me is run me out of here.”
As she regained control of the mic, the heckler was restrained by someone else in the crowd. According to WBND, the person holding him back was the brother of Eric Logan, the black man who had been fatally shot in June.