Police shootings of people of color have not occupied headlines the way they did at the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement a few years ago, even though more than 420 people have been shot and killed by police in 2019, according to a Washington Post database.
But the shooting death of a black man by a South Bend, Ind., police officer has reintroduced to the national conversation the issues of police shootings and the relationship of law enforcement to black communities, in a way that has particular bearing on the 2020 Democratic field. It’s a safe bet that it will be a topic of conversation at this week’s debates.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend and a 2020 hopeful, temporarily suspended his presidential campaign last week after the shooting. He said his decision to return home was intended to “open channels of communication to try to be clear on where the city is.”
But the return home has been rocky for the 37-year-old second-term mayor. Long-simmering tensions between Buttigieg and the black community in South Bend boiled over, and his campaign success has meant that happened under a media spotlight.
It’s not clear yet how the incident will affect Buttigieg’s candidacy — he was already struggling to win over black voters. According to a Politico poll, nearly one in two black voters have never even heard of him.
Police violence was a frequent topic during the 2016 presidential campaign, with multiple candidates responding to the issue as incidents made headlines.
But conversations about the issue have consistently failed to attract national attention since then. While President Barack Obama launched initiatives to improve the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities, President Trump’s administration has not made that a focus. In fact, one of Jeff Sessions’s final actions as Trump’s attorney general further restricted the federal government’s ability to enforce changes at law enforcement agencies accused of abuse.
The overwhelming majority — 84 percent — of black Americans say that black people are treated less fairly than white Americans, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. While it has been a while since this issue has dominated political discussions, it remains important to black voters and could be a frequent topic of discussion headed into the 2020 election.