Politics

Democratic hopeful Pete Buttigieg addresses 'all lives matter' controversy, says he no longer uses the phrase

Key Points
  • "Since learning about how that phrase was being used to push back on that activism, I have stopped using it in that context," Buttigieg says.
  • His statement comes a day after CNBC reports on his 2015 use of the phrase, which activists say is used to criticize the Black Lives Matter movement.
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg greets voters during a campaign stop at Portsmouth Gas Light in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, U.S., March 8, 2019.
Brian Snyder | Reuters

Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg on Thursday told reporters he no longer says "all lives matter" following a report published by CNBC a day before that surfaced his 2015 use of the phrase, which activists say is used to criticize the Black Lives Matter movement.

"What I did not understand at that time" — March of 2015 — "was that phrase was coming to be used as a sort of counter-slogan to Black Lives Matter," Buttigieg said after delivering an address on racial justice at the National Action Network conference in New York.

"And so, that statement, which 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," Buttigieg said. "Since learning about how that phrase was being used to push back on that activism, I have stopped using it in that context," he added.

Buttigieg said that it was unfortunate that it was not obvious to everybody that black lives had value, "so that is the contribution of Black Lives Matter," he said.

The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has rapidly become one of the rising stars of the Democratic Party and the 2020 primary race.

After announcing the formation of an exploratory committee in late January, Buttigieg on Monday announced a fundraising haul of more than $7 million. That figure drew more attention to the longshot contender.

Buttigieg used Thursday's address to the civil rights organization, which is helmed by Al Sharpton, to lay out his agenda for promoting racial justice as president.

"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 during the address.

He proposed specific action that would address racial disparities in five key areas, including homeownership, business, education, health and criminal justice. He called for the abolition of the death penalty, the right to vote for ex-felons, and "steps toward expungement and reversal of ridiculously long sentences" for drug crimes like possession. 

After Buttigieg finished, Sharpton, once an advisor to President Barack Obama, praised him for dealing in "substance, not soundbites."

In response to a question from Sharpton, Buttigieg joined some of his Democratic rivals in endorsing legislation calling for a study on the issue of reparations.

"The conversation about reparations is also one about justice between generations," Buttigieg said, noting that a rising tide does not lift all boats. "You can't tie that boat down, and then wonder why it's getting flooded when the tide is rising," he said.

The "all lives matter" comment came during Buttigieg's State of the City address in March 2015, months before 2016 Democratic primary contenders Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley came under scrutiny for their use of the phrase.

"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 at the time.

"We need to take both those things seriously, for the simple and profound reason that all lives matter," he said.

Activists in South Bend have criticized Buttigieg for pursuing economic policies that have benefited white residents while doing little for minority communities.

A report published in 2017 in partnership with the city found that economic inequality between black and white households is worse in South Bend than in the rest of the country.