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Pete Buttigieg on Thursday criticized an explosive — and nearly violent — interruption by a protester in a "Black Lives Matter" shirt at a gathering of African American supporters in South Bend, Indiana, as an "unfortunate" result of the political "climate that we're in."
"It shows kind of where politics has come to, especially for somebody to interrupt an African American woman who was speaking about her truth and in her experience," Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, told NBC News about the Wednesday night incident.
"But this is the climate that we're in and we need to continue making sure that everyone is empowered to speak their truth, their experience, and in particular, when it comes to South Bend's story," he said.
Buttigieg was responding to a skirmish — caught on video — at which several African Americans who support his campaign were interrupted by a protester.
Sharon McBride, a black South Bend Common Council member, was speaking about why she backs Buttigieg, who has struggled to win over African American voters, when a man in the audience began shouting over her.
"Where are the black leaders who don't have three-piece suits, leather jackets, and nice clothing?" yelled a man who was wearing a "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt.
"Who chose these people as black leaders?" said man asked. He then approached the front of the room, grabbed the microphone from McBride and shouted, "Who organized them?"
"We have a police crisis in this town," he said. "Why are we talking about Pete Buttigieg?"
An older woman in the crowd then stood up and raised her cane above her head and gestured toward the man in what appeared to be a threat to strike him before being subdued.
Buttigieg was not present at the event, which was organized with the help of his campaign.
In a statement Thursday, Black Lives Matter-South Bend said it "fully supports the actions of our members and allies at the Pete for America press conference held in South Bend, IN, yesterday."
"This protest represents only a fraction of the longstanding pain many Black, Brown, and poor citizens endure in Mayor Pete’s South Bend," the group said.
The incident Wednesday night was the latest display of Buttigieg's struggles to appeal to African-American voters. As his polling numbers have risen, Buttigieg has been forced to confront questions about his record on race, police accountability and crime reduction in South Bend, which all came to the forefront after police shot and killed a black man in June.
Buttigieg campaign staffers expressed anger and sadness after the incident.
Lis Smith, a senior aide for the Buttigieg campaign, tweeted that the protester was a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign.
Sanders' campaign manager Faiz Shakir told NBC News that the campaign "does not support the disruption of any candidates' events, and we condemn anyone who does so."