Pete Buttigieg has left South Bend, but South Bend hasn’t left him. Activists from the Indiana city are making sure his hometown problems follow him around.
When the Democratic presidential candidate and former South Bend, Ind., mayor visited a homeless shelter in Watts on Friday morning, he got two very different receptions, symbolizing his challenge in attracting nonwhite voters.
Buttigieg was greeted warmly inside A Bridge Home project shelter, where Angelenos, many of whom were black, told him their stories of struggle in South L.A. Buttigieg is vowing to build more affordable housing and end homelessness for families with children.
“For him to even take the time out [to visit]…. If he becomes president, could you imagine? What he could do if he really listened?” shelter resident and former nurse LaVerne Green said. She spoke tearfully about how becoming homeless over the last year had taken away her identity as a self-sufficient professional. “I wish people could see me as LaVerne Green again.” She gave Buttigieg a hug after they talked.
But on a sidewalk outside, separated from the shelter by a wall, a small group of about a dozen Black Lives Matters protesters loudly heckled Buttigieg as “anti-black and anti-poor” over his record in South Bend, where his eight years as mayor ended Jan. 1. Residents there have given both positive and outright hostile reviews of his tenure.
Three of the Black Lives Matters demonstrators outside the shelter said they had traveled from South Bend to protest Buttigieg. They criticized the former mayor’s handling of South Bend’s homelessness problem and focused on the recent death of Anthony Young, a 44-year-old man who, according to local news reports, died of hypothermia outside on a downtown path in mid-December, while Buttigieg was still in office.
“We haven’t seen Mayor Pete in a while. I’m surprised he’s here at a shelter [in Los Angeles] and not in South Bend at a shelter. We miss his face,” Kahmiil Middleton, 22, of South Bend said in an interview. Shecriticized Buttigieg for not returning to South Bend last month to address Young’s death. “We understand that he’s campaigning, but when you’re mayor, you have a job to do. He did not make that his priority.”
Buttigieg told reporters at the homeless shelter that Young had died “after declining to come into a shelter.” Buttigieg then added to shelter staff who were nearby, “perhaps you’ve had the experience of asking somebody to come in and they’ve not been willing or able to do it” for reasons of battling addiction or not being able to bring a pet into a shelter.
Buttigieg’s campaign defended his record on homelessness and expanding shelter access in South Bend, citing federal statistics showing that homelessness had declined by a quarter in the greater South Bend region during his tenure. (Federal city-level statistics were not available.)
At the demonstration outside, Middleton was joined by fellow South Bend protesters Anthony Thomson, 22, and Katheryn Redding, who said she was also protesting over South Bend police issues. Redding, who has been identified in previous news coverage as a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, said she wants South Bend to create a civilian police review board with subpoena power.
Middleton vowed to continue the protests: “Wherever he goes, we’ll go, because we don’t want to be forgotten.”
The activists apparently got help in traveling to Los Angeles from Indiana. Redding said in an interview that “there was an organization that paid for us to come.”
“I was told not to release that information,” Redding told The Times when asked who funded the travel to protest Buttigieg. She described the source as “another revolutionary group” and not another presidential campaign (and not Sanders’ similarly named “Our Revolution” group). “It wasn’t presidentially paid for at all, or anyone that’s running.”
After a version of this story was published online, Redding said the trip was funded by Black Lives Matter South Bend, not a different group.
A spokesman for Buttigieg’s campaign declined to comment on the protesters.
Buttigieg was visiting the shelter with L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who told the candidate that Los Angeles hoped for greater federal support in grappling with the city’s enormous homelessness problem.
“This is a good time to remember that the crisis of homelessness, the crisis facing unhoused people, touches communities of every size and every climate and every part of the country,” Buttigieg said.