At Sharpton Event, Buttigieg Explains Why He Stopped Saying ‘All Lives Matter’

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks at the 2019 National Action Network National Convention in N.Y., April 4, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/REUTERS)

Democratic presidential candidate and Southbend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg explained why he stopped using the phrase “all lives matter” when discussing the issue of racially motivated police violence during a Thursday appearance at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network Convention in New York.

Buttigieg, during his remarks, appeared to praise the work of the progressive Black Lives Matter organization, which was formed to draw attention to racial discrimination in policing and the disproportionate use of force against black men.

“It should enhance — not diminish — the value of a good police department when we assert what should go without saying, but in these times must be said clearly and again and again: that black lives matter,” Buttigieg said. “So, a national agenda on criminal-justice reform means not only enhancing policing in a more racially just way — not only challenging discriminatory practices and existing laws — but addressing the harm done by things like the decade-long war on drugs. It means reversing and recognizing the harms of mass incarceration.”

The comments departed sharply from those Buttigieg made in 2015 when, as mayor of Southbend, he addressed escalating tensions between the community’s police department and its black residents by weighing the concerns of both groups equally.

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“There is no contradiction between respecting the risks that police officers take every day in order to protect this community, and recognizing the need to overcome the biases implicit in a justice system that treats people from different backgrounds differently, even when they are accused of the same offenses,” Buttigieg said in his State of the City speech. “We need to take both those things seriously, for the simple and profound reason that all lives matter.”

Following his address on Thursday, Buttigieg was asked to account for the change in the way he perceives tensions between racial minorities and law-enforcement agencies.

“At that time, I was talking about a lot of issues around racial reconciliation and . . . what I did not understand at that time was that phrase . . . especially into 2015 it was coming into use as sort of a counter-slogan to black lives matter,” Buttigieg said. “And so, this statement, that seems very anodyne and something that nobody could be against, actually wound up being used to devalue what the Black Lives Matter movement was telling us.”

The mayor and Navy veteran went on to credit the Black Lives Matter movement with educating him and the rest of the country about police mistreatment of African Americans.

“So, that is the contribution of Black Lives Matter, and that is the reason why — since learning about how the phrase was being used — I have stopped using it,” he said of “all lives matter.”

Buttigieg’s explanation of his transition comes after Miramar, Fla. mayor Wayne Messam, who has also entered the crowded 2020 Democratic primary field, said his rival’s 2015 comments “lack true understanding of the issue at hand.”

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