(CN) – South Bend, Indiana, mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg unveiled a policy plan Thursday that aims to lessen the impacts of systemic racial inequality on black Americans by overhauling the criminal justice system and making large economic and education investments.
Buttigieg’s Douglass Plan, named after the famous American abolitionist and social reformer Frederick Douglass, tackles dozens of issues including heath care and economic injustice, and includes a criminal justice reform package that the mayor says would reduce the number of incarcerated people by half.
The plan calls for abolishing of privately owned federal prisons and eliminating federal incarceration for drug possession while reducing the sentences of other drug offenses.
In addition, the proposal supports the elimination of the death penalty and limits on the use of solitary confinement for prisoners, and calls for better access to employment once inmates are released from prison.
“We must ensure less contact with an over-reaching criminal justice system. Once people are released from incarceration, we must ensure they are free to reintegrate into society and have the support to do so,” the plan document states.
The release of the ambitious policy proposal might satiate some of Buttigieg’s critics who claim he has unveiled little in terms of policy specifics, but it seems the real goal of the plan is to make inroads with black voters.
Far from a campaign that is in trouble, Buttigieg is still routinely polling in the top five of Democratic candidates and just raised $24.8 million in the year’s second quarter, topping all other Democrats in the field.
But despite the superb fundraising numbers, the mayor’s polling among black Democratic voters has been extremely low – just 2% in a recent Morning Consult poll – and those numbers would need to improve if he is to build a winning coalition of Democratic votes nationally.
Part of his problems in winning support among the black community could stem from a white police officer’s recent fatal shooting of a black man in South Bend. A judge has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the incident.
Coupled with his low polling numbers with black voters, Buttigieg has been criticized for his handling of police matters during his tenure as the mayor of South Bend.
During last month’s first primary debate, Buttigieg admitted he had failed at recruiting more black and minority officers for his city’s police department.
“I couldn’t get it done,” he said.
The debate question came on the heels of the June 16 shooting death of Eric Logan by a white police officer. Sergeant Ryan O’Neill had claimed that 54-year-old Logan, a father of seven, was carrying a knife when he approached him.
The killing caused Buttigieg to abandon the campaign trail for a few days to deal with rising tensions and protests in South Bend.
The Douglass Plan is not the mayor’s only attempt at courting black voters. In April, he met with civil rights leader the Reverend Al Sharpton, with whom he discussed many of the issues tackled by his new plan. He also recently attended an event hosted by the Reverend Jesse Jackson in Chicago.
In addition to criminal justice reforms, the plan attempts to address economic racial inequality by calling for an investment of $10 billion over the course of five years into minority entrepreneurs, and would redirect 25% of federal contracting dollars to small business owners in urban and rural areas.
Buttigieg also proposes a $15 minimum wage and a $25 billion investment in historically black colleges and universities.
Hoping his new plan will strike excitement among black voters, Buttigieg appeared on the NPR program “Morning Edition” and defended the notion that his plan would be too expensive to implement.
“I don’t know where we got the idea that it’s impossible to do these things,” he told NPR’s Rachel Martin. “This is a country that changed the Constitution so you couldn’t buy a drink and then changed its mind and changed it back. Are you really telling me that we are incapable of using one of the most elegant features of our constitutional system?”