Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg said Thursday that he was unaware when he said “all lives matter” in 2015 that the phrase was being used to undercut the Black Lives Matter movement.
Buttigieg spoke about his past comment after a speech at the National Action Network, a politically powerful organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton. The phrase “all lives matter” has been used by critics of the Black Lives Matter movement to push back on the view that closer attention needs to be paid to the deaths of African American men and women at the hand of law enforcement.
“At that time, I was talking about a lot of issues around racial reconciliation in our community. What I did not understand at that time, was that phrase, just early into mid-2015, was coming to be viewed as a sort of 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.”
He added: “That is the contribution of Black Lives Matter and it’s a reason why, since learning about how that phrase was being used to push back on that activism, I’ve stopped using it in that context.”
Buttigieg, who launched a presidential exploratory committee earlier this year, said “all lives matter” during his 2015 State of the City speech.
“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 then. “We need to take both those things seriously, for the simple and profound reason that all lives matter.”
Lis Smith, the mayor’s spokeswoman, defended the comment, saying it was made “in the context of discussing racial reconciliation in his 2015 State of the City speech.”
“He believes black lives matter and that has been reflected in his actions as mayor of South Bend,” Smith said.
Some politicians got themselves into political trouble during the 2016 election for saying “all lives matter.”
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was booed at the liberal Netroots Nation conference in 2015 for saying “all lives matter” and the 2016 candidate would later apologize for the “mistake.”
Hillary Clinton, the eventual nominee, also made the mistake when she retold a lesson she learned from her mother.
“I asked her, ‘What kept you going?’ Her answer was very simple,” Clinton said. “Kindness along the way from someone who believed she mattered. All lives matter.”
Buttigieg used his speech before the National Action Network on Thursday to both tout what he did as mayor of South Bend to combat police brutality and officer involved shootings, while also acknowledging that he had to learn things “the hard way” in his first term as mayor.
National Action Network’s ongoing three-day conference in New York this week is drawing a dozen declared Democratic candidates for President, including former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and California Sen. Kamala Harris, and is widely seen as a powerful avenue for courting the African American vote, a demographic that is likely to make up a bulk of voters in the Democratic primary.
“Some of the things I have learned about criminal justice reform … these are things we learn the hard way in our community, especially early in my term,” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg said his policy for lifting up African American communities would focus on home ownership, entrepreneurship, education, health and justice.
“The idea that a rising tide lifts all boats just isn’t true. Not when some of those boats are still roped down on the ocean floor,” Buttigieg said, after describing South Bend as a “racially diverse and largely low-income city, but also a beautiful and generous city” where his government has “worked hard to address the racial inequities that hold us back from being the city we wish to be.”