South Bend NAACP responds to systemic racism comments made by Republican mayoral candidate

NOW: South Bend NAACP responds to systemic racism comments made by Republican mayoral candidate

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — On Wednesday, the president of South Bend’s NAACP chapter reacted to comments said during a debate by Republican Mayoral candidate Sean Haas. 

Haas answered a question about policing in the community, which is a popular topic after increased concern of racism on the city’s police force following a fatal officer-involved shooting in June. Haas said the following during Tuesday’s debate between him and Democrat James Mueller: 

“I don’t believe in systemic racism. I believe there are bad actors in every single profession, whether it’s police officers, teachers, lawyers. There are  bad examples but to blanket call, an entire force racist on the actions of a few is irresponsible and frankly a lie.”

However, South Bend NAACP President Michael Patton among other people in the city disagrees. 

“Systemic racism is still alive and well,” said Patton. “I think it’s important for our mayor-elect to be informed and certainly to recognize that systemic racism is in our city.”

Lynn Coleman, a former mayoral candidate, listened from the audience on Tuesday night to Haas sent systemic racism. He shared his reaction a day later with ABC 57 News at the Charles Martin Youth Center. 

“I just think it was misinformed,” said Coleman. “I don’t know where he gets those numbers with that information from or whatever but we have our problems.”

In South Bend, there are physical reminders of the racism that minority communities dealt with during the Jim Crow ad Civil Rights Era. The Engman Public Natatorium discriminated against Black Americans for 30 years. 

It’s now a building that houses Indiana University South Bend’s Civil Rights Heritage Center. On Wednesday, staff told ABC 57 News that Haas’ comments on systemic racism are untrue. 

“I consider it an opportunity to learn more about how the systems have impacted the people,” said George Garner, with the Civil Rights Heritage Center. “We know that there systems in place that deny access that deny opportunity to people of color.”

Haas is an American History teacher in South Bend. On Tuesday night, he said he feels the country has righted the wrongs from the past. 

“Are there individuals that are racist? Absolutely,” said Haas. “But I think the United States by far is the least racist country in the world.”

On Wednesday, Haas did not back down from his comments. In a statement to ABC 57 News he wrote the following:

“Sure. I don’t believe that systemic racism is the issue. I believe that racism exists, and there are individuals who are racist, but I reject the idea of systemic racism being pervasive in all American life. I feel our country has worked very hard to rectify many of the racial issues that were present from our founding. There is still work to be done, as is evidenced by many examples in the news, but I don’t believe it to be as intrusive as some people make it out to be.  I believe that economic opportunity and progress is what will lead to success for all individuals.”

However, the systemic problems facing African Americans is clear to Patton. These problems are what he said he’s looking forward to working with the next mayor to solve.

“We have to come up with some initiatives and solutions to address it,” Patton said. 

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