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Buttigieg details ‘Douglass Plan’ for black Americans

Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at the 2019 Essence Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans on Sunday. (Amy Harris/Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Thursday rolled out an ambitious policy plan to “dismantle racist structures and systems” in the United States, proposing changes to the country’s health, education and criminal justice systems that he hoped would amount to “a comprehensive investment in the empowerment of black America.”

Dubbed the Douglass Plan, after the abolitionist and activist Frederick Douglass, the plan is similar to what Buttigieg first outlined a month ago in an op-ed for the Charleston Chronicle in South Carolina. The fuller announcement comes as the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate continues to try to make inroads with African American voters.

“We have lived in the shadow of systemic racism for too long,” Buttigieg said in a statement, citing a rise in white nationalism, a growing economic gap between black and white workers, and worse health outcomes for African Americans in the United States. Those disparities, he added, “should make us all wonder how the richest country on Earth can allow this to happen under our noses.”

The 18-page plan includes proposals to establish health equity programs; to award a quarter of all government contracts to minority business owners; to reduce the incarceration rate by half at both the federal and state levels; and to “massively increase federal resources” for Title I schools.

Some of his proposals — such as increasing federal resources by $25 billion for historically black colleges and universities and other minority institutions; issuing new regulations to diversify the teaching profession; and setting a goal to triple the number of black entrepreneurs within a decade — are targeted specifically at minority communities.

Other aspects of the plan, such as doing away with the electoral college and replacing it with a national popular vote, are ideas Buttigieg already had been touting to general audiences on the campaign trail. Buttigieg likened the Douglass Plan in scope and ambition to “the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II.”

The plan rollout is Buttigieg’s latest effort to make his case to African American voters, a demographic he has acknowledged he must win over after some dismal early poll numbers in South Carolina.

Those efforts were hampered last month after a white South Bend police officer fatally shot a black man, leading to protests and renewed scrutiny over Buttigieg’s mayoral record in the midsize Indiana city. The fallout from the shooting, just days before the first Democratic debate in Miami, led to Buttigieg being asked onstage why he hadn’t succeeded in increasing black representation on the South Bend police force over his two terms.

“Because I couldn’t get it done,” Buttigieg told the debate moderators soberly. “My community is in anguish . . . and I’m not allowed to take sides until the investigation comes back. The officer didn’t have his body camera on. It’s a mess. We are hurting.”

The Douglass Plan comes on the heels of Buttigieg unveiling a separate plan to encourage black entrepreneurship at the 2019 Essence Festival in New Orleans over the weekend.

Buttigieg, 37, launched his campaign as a long-shot candidate with little national name recognition, but recent poll numbers show him in fifth place. His campaign recently announced it had raised $24.8 million in the second quarter, a figure that is likely to be the largest among the field of Democratic candidates.

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