We South Bend, IN residents are getting a ground-level look at the big issues of the day. The fact that our mayor is running for president, and doing surprisingly well, has drawn national attention to what goes on here, good things but mostly bad things.
Like shootings. Like racism exacerbated by police misconduct.
Yesterday I attended a town hall meeting at a local high school, widely reported in the national media, about a shooting of a black man by a white police officer. In any other city this might not have gotten national media attention, but the fact that Mayor Pete Buttigieg is running for president meant that it became both a way for aggrieved citizens to get a large audience for their hurt and anger and a test of the candidate. What would he do? What can he do? How would he handle it?
The media love conflict, and they got a good show.
I am not critical of this. I, too, was there partly for the drama. You can’t beat real-life drama for drawing attention to a “problem,” an “issue,” that might in normal circumstances be treated, in a political campaign, by white papers and policy prescriptions. This was not a policy debate. It was real life. Mayor Pete was visibly exhausted and upset. People were angry and frustrated. A man was dead. In the previous 24 hours, another man had been killed and 10 others injured in a bar shooting. Different but related. All violence is part of the same picture.
As if this plague of violence was not enough, Mother Nature added a blow. Within an hour after the town hall, South Bend was visited by a tornado that damaged a preschool.
So how did he do? How did we do? This article in the local paper is a pretty good report. Pete stayed calm. The police chief stayed calm. The NAACP president pleaded and prayed for calm. All possible information about the incident was shared. Procedures were described.
Most of the audience stayed calm but a few did not. They wanted to be heard and they were too frustrated to wait for a microphone that might have made it possible to actually hear them. A few had concrete demands. Others drowned out both audience members and leaders and were often, themselves, unintelligible.
But words weren’t all that important. It was a time for venting frustrations. It was a time for railing against powerlessness. And I daresay we all felt a great degree of frustration and powerlessness.
We can’t solve the problem of racism and violence and often-deserved mistrust of police alone. No individual can solve this problem alone, and no community can solve this problem alone. Or quickly. It’s South Bend’s luck to be the focus of a spotlight on what is certainly a national problem.
But so be it. Our mayor and our community seem determined to face it, to lean into the problem rather than run from it, ignore it, forget it between crises. If only our nation could do the same. As Pete told the media afterward, “This problem has to get solved in my lifetime. I don’t know of a person or a city that has solved it. But I know that if we do not solve it in my lifetime, it will sink America.”
It’s maybe what I prayed for as I sat in helpless vigil a few evenings after a shooting just behind my backyard. (See “Traychon” and “Traychon, cont.”) Don’t let this go away, be forgotten. Let’s face into it. Show us the way.