A pair of seasoned, Los Angeles-based Black Lives Matter leaders recently traveled to Indiana to help local progressives organize residents against South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg as he contends for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Dr. Melina Abdullah, who leads Black Lives Matter’s L.A. chapter (BLM-LA), headlined a community meeting last Wednesday attended by the family of Eric Logan, a 54-year-old black man who was shot and killed by a white South Bend police officer on June 16. She was accompanied by Greg Akili, a former union organizer who was mentored by Cesar Chavez in the early 1970s. They “were invited to South Bend to organize” in the wake of the officer-involved shooting death, according to BLM-LA.
“What we saw with the murder of Eric Logan at the hands of police really is an opportunity to revisit and re-engage around the questions of police violence in black communities,” Abdullah told a crowd of about 75 people gathered at a restaurant in downtown South Bend.
Attendees wanted to learn from Abdullah’s experiences, explore ways to collaborate with Black Lives Matter, and advance local organizing efforts targeting Buttigieg and the South Bend Police Department.
“This was about getting everybody in a room and empowering each other and moving forward,” said Jorden Giger, founder of a newly-formed local activist group called BlackTavists, in an interview with the South Bend Tribune.
Giger organized the get-together following a Young Turks report that said Sergeant Ryan O’Neill, the police officer who killed Logan, “had a history of allegations of racist language.”
O’Neill did not have his body camera turned on when he fired his handgun last month. Authorities said Logan approached O’Neill while holding a knife and refused orders to drop it. A special prosecutor is investigating the incident.
At a Black Lives Matter rally on July 13, BlackTavists issued a list of demands for Buttigieg which included paying reparations to Logan’s family, fire or demote the police chief, and terminate Sgt. O’Neill, who went on to step down from the police force last week.
“O’Neill resigned because of community pressure, so I think the community absolutely has to see that as one of their victories,” Abdullah, who is also a tenured professor at California State University, told WSBT News. “It’s really important that South Bend folks remember that this is their moment.”
Dr. Abdullah launched a similar campaign against L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the LAPD in 2016. Demonstrators allied with Black Lives Matter camped outside L.A. City Hall for 54 days after police commissioners ruled that an officer-involved shooting had not violated LAPD’s deadly-force policy. Activists asked Garcetti to fire the police chief and develop a reparations policy for the families of people killed by law enforcement, proposed reforms comparable to the recent demands made on Mayor Buttigieg. Abdullah and her allies claimed victory after LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced his early retirement last year.
Buttigieg temporarily suspended his presidential campaign for several days following Logan’s death. Video of the mayor addressing a group of visibly angry black protestors back home went viral. The Indianapolis Star reports that recent polling shows Buttigieg “at near zero percent with African American voters,” adding, he “kept hearing smatterings of ‘Black Lives Matter’” during an appearance at the Young Democrats of America Convention last Thursday night. While campaigning in Iowa over the weekend, Buttigieg told ABC News that white supremacy “could be the lurking issue that ends this country.”
South Bend activists have organized a sit-in for August 3 to draw attention to the demands presented to Buttigieg. A flyer describes the upcoming action as a “24-hour standoff” to take place at the County-City Building.
“We cannot lose this moment,” Abdullah told local organizers. “We have to save Eric Logan’s life, and the way in which his life was stolen can be used to preserve the lives of other people.”
A recent analysis by Eugene Scott, who covers “identity politics” for the Washington Post, notes that the controversy in South Bend “has reintroduced to the national conversation the issues of police shootings and the relationship of law enforcement to black communities, in a way that has particular bearing on the 2020 Democratic field.”
BLM-LA posted pictures of the South Bend excursion to Instagram, along with the caption: “As Mayor Pete Buttigieg runs for president, Black South Benders are demanding that he not forget about home.”
“The vision, power, and will of the Logan family and community were undeniable. Stay tuned! We’re definitely ‘going back to Indiana!’”
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @JeffreyCawood.