Fact Check: Buttigieg Remarks About Racism And Underpass Were NOT Made After Collapse Of Key Bridge In Baltimore

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: Buttigieg Remarks About Racism And Underpass Were NOT Made After Collapse Of Key Bridge In Baltimore 2021 Footage

Did Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg make remarks about how racism went into design choices after the Francis Scott Key bridge collapsed in Baltimore on March 26, 2024? No, that's not true: The video clip in a social media post dates back to a November 9, 2021, White House daily briefing. Buttigieg's 2021 remarks were a response to a direct question regarding the Justice40 Initiative to aid disadvantaged communities. A portion of his response was omitted from the clip circulating on social media in March 2024, with the timing of the post implying his remarks came after the bridge collapse. Buttigieg appeared in several news briefings after the collapse of the bridge in Baltimore and did not speak about racism.

The 2021 C-SPAN video clip resurfaced in a post the day Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed into the Patapsco River, March 26, 2024. The post (archived here) on Instagram was published by @theconservativepatriot with the caption:

Follow me on 𝕏! TheConserv55806

Text captions on the video clip read:

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says that underpasses that were designed too low 'reflect racism.'

Absolute MORON!


(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Mar 27 19:57:13 2024 UTC)

The scope of this fact check is to identify this 2021 video clip in a timeline of events. It will not extend to Buttigieg's remarks about whether overpasses were built intentionally low to prevent a bus carrying Black and Puerto Rican kids from getting to a beach. Some social media posts made more explicit false claims that Buttigieg said the Francis Scott Key Bridge was racist. Others resurfaced an old video that has a C-SPAN caption "Today," without offering the context that this video clip is from 2021.

In the afternoon on March 26, 2024, Buttigieg spoke about the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge at a Maryland Transportation Authority press briefing with Maryland Gov. Wes Moore. The full video can be viewed on the CBS News YouTube channel. Buttigieg begins speaking at about six minutes in. Buttigieg's remarks in the March 27, 2024, White House daily briefing can be viewed on C-SPAN here. Neither of these briefings featured discussion of racism.

The November 8, 2021, C-SPAN video clip included in the Instagram post was part of a White House daily briefing. The C-SPAN video is captioned:

White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg held a briefing on the Biden administration's agenda. The newly-passed infrastructure bill dominated discussion. Other topics included a federal judge temporarily blocking the administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large companies, vacancies at the Federal Reserve, and U.S.-China relations.

The portion of the press briefing where the clip in question originated begins with a question from reporter April Ryan. In her question Ryan mentions the publication, theGrio. The website's about page says it is "the largest Black newsroom in America" and "TheGrio is Black Culture Amplified." Ryan had interviewed Buttigieg for an April 6, 2021, article in TheGrio titled, "Buttigieg says racism built into US infrastructure was a 'conscious choice.'"

Ryan also includes mention of Justice40 in her question. Justice40 is a whole-of-government initiative that was introduced in section 223 of Executive Order 14008 on January 27, 2021. The U.S. Department of Transportation, with Buttigieg as its secretary at the time of writing, is one of many federal agencies that will be implementing the initiative. On the whitehouse.gov website Justice40 is described:

For the first time in our nation's history, the Federal government has made it a goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain Federal climate, clean energy, affordable and sustainable housing, and other investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized by underinvestment and overburdened by pollution.

On November 8, 2021, at the 9:00-minute mark in the C-SPAN video, Ryan asked Buttigieg:

Secretary Mayor Pete, could you give us the breakdown of the implementation of Justice40 with the infrastructure package that has now passed and signed into law? And also, can you give us the construct of how you will deconstruct the racism that was built into the roadways that you talked to theGrio earlier when you broke that information with us? Can you talk to us about how that could be deconstructed?

Buttigieg begins his response:

For sure, yeah. So, the principle of Justice40 is that at least 40 percent of the clean investments in this bill will go to benefit the communities that are overburdened and underserved.

So, part one of that is defining those investments that are eligible, and that's a lot of it, and we're working to map out kind of program by program, mode by mode, what would qualify.

Toward the middle of his response (clip embedded below) Buttigieg gives examples how certain past infrastructure design choices might reflect racism.

I'm still surprised that some people were surprised when I pointed to the fact that if a highway was built for the purpose of dividing a white and a Black neighborhood, or if an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach -- or that would have been -- in New York was designed too low for it to pass by, that that obviously reflects racism that went into those design choices. I don't think we have anything to lose by confronting that simple reality.

Additional Lead Stories fact checks debunking claims about the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge can be found here and here.

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  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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