ABC moderator presses Buttigieg on rising arrests of blacks for marijuana in South Bend

Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegIn politics, as in baseball, it ain't over till it's over Biden campaign hires top cybersecurity officials to defend against threats Biden strikes populist tone in blistering rebuke of Trump, Wall Street MORE faced questions Friday over the rise in arrests of black residents in South Bend, Ind., for marijuana possession during his eight years as mayor.

Pressed by ABC News correspondent and moderator Linsey Davis about the increase, Buttigieg insisted during the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire that the “overall rate” of arrests “was lower” in South Bend while he was in office.

“No, there was an increase,” said Davis. “The year before you were in office it was lower.”

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“One of the strategies that our community adopted was to target — when there were cases where there was gun violence or gang violence that was slaughtering so many in our community, burying teenagers, disproportionately black teenagers, we adopted a strategy that said that drug enforcement would be targeted in cases where there was a connection to the most violent group or gang connected to a murder,” Buttigieg said.

“These things are all connected,” he added. “But that’s the point. So are all of the things that need to change in order for us to prevent violence and remove the effects of systemic racism, not just from criminal justice, but from our economy, from health, from housing and from our democracy itself.”

Davis then asked one of Buttigieg’s chief rivals for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenIn politics, as in baseball, it ain't over till it's over Trump defends Roger Stone move: He was target of 'Witch Hunt' Democrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' MORE (D-Mass.), whether the former South Bend mayor’s answer was “substantial.”

“No,” Warren said, drawing a roar of applause and cheers in the debate hall. “You have to own up to the facts. And it’s important to own up to the facts about how race has totally permeated the criminal justice system.”

“We need to rework our criminal justice system from the very front end on what we make illegal, all the way through the system, and how we help people come back into the community,” she continued.

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The response was among the most memorable of the night for Warren, who has been struggling in New Hampshire. Recent statewide polls show her trailing top rivals Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden aspires to become America's auto-pen president Progressive Mondaire Jones wins NY primary to replace Nita Lowey OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden pledges carbon-free power by 2035 in T environment plan | Trump administration has been underestimating costs of carbon pollution, government watchdog finds | Trump to move forward with rollback of bedrock environmental law MORE (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden campaign slams Trump's Rose Garden event as 'sad affair' New shutdowns add to Trump woes CNN cuts away from Trump's 'campaign-type' Rose Garden speech MORE.

The Granite State is set to hold its presidential primary, the second nominating contest of the 2020 election cycle, on Tuesday.

For Buttigieg, the New Hampshire primary carries particular weight because it is the last nominating contest before he heads into more diverse states like Nevada and South Carolina. While he has seen his political stock rise since entering the presidential contest last year, polls show that he has struggled to gain traction among black voters.

That could be a particular liability in South Carolina, where more than half the Democratic primary electorate is black.

--Updated at 11:05 p.m.