Frederick Douglass’s warning to lawmakers was sharp and direct. “No republic is safe that tolerates a privileged class, or denies to any of its citizens equal rights and equal means to maintain them,” he wrote in The Atlantic in 1866. The postwar government had not done its job, and it needed to be “consistent with itself”; consistent with the founding document that said “all men are created equal.”
America is still doing the work of atoning for its legacy of slavery and ongoing discrimination, and today, Pete Buttigieg, part of the horde of Democrats vying for the 2020 presidential nod, released his plan to do so—an 18-page document he is calling “The Douglass Plan,” named for the famed orator and activist. “We have to speak specifically to the effects that racism has had in getting us to where we are,” Buttigieg said during a meeting with editors and reporters at The Atlantic last month. The plan lays out a laundry list of proposals that address racial inequities in health care, education, voter suppression, and the criminal-justice system.
The proposal comes as Buttigieg has gotten some traction with white voters, but has struggled with black ones. After the first set of debates, his poll numbers slipped to 4 percent overall in the crowded field; but among black voters, he polled at zero percent. His record with the black community in South Bend has been equally strained; notably, he fired the first black police chief, and struggled to recruit other black officers. In this context, Buttigieg’s emphasis on criminal-justice reform stands out, especially as his handling of a recent case in South Bend, where a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man, Eric J. Logan, has drawn intense scrutiny.