Two disastrous events struck Indiana just over a month ago. First, tornadoes touched down in both Kokomo and southern Montgomery county. Shortly afterwards, some residents of East Chicago, Indiana, were informed that the lead levels in the soil near their housing complex were dangerously high and that they would have to move. While these stories have departed the front page of the newspapers, some onlookers, including last week’s columnist Kiara Goodwine, are still questioning why Indiana Governor Mike Pence visited Kokomo and Montgomery County, but not East Chicago.
Goodwine’s conclusion to the above question, from what I deduced, is as follows: Kokomo and Montgomery County are predominantly white, middle-class areas, but East Chicago is a mixed-race city with mostly blue-collar, impoverished communities. Therefore, because Pence visited Kokomo and Montgomery county but not East Chicago, he is “racis[t].” Now, no matter what you may think of Pence’s political views, I believe many would agree that this reasoning and conclusion is unfair to Pence. I’m not saying that Pence shouldn’t have visited East Chicago; I just think there are some very plausible reasons for Pence’s absence that Goodwine didn’t consider.
First of all, Goodwine gives the impression in her article that Pence ignored East Chicago completely. This is simply not the case: on his Twitter account, Pence addresses the issue in a tweet on Aug. 30, thanking government officials in the area for their hard work, and pledging his support for the affected families. He also retweeted many updates put out by other government officials. On Sept. 20, he tweeted about his actions following the incident, including speaking with the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about plans for the East Chicagoans affected by the crisis. While Pence may not have made a trip to East Chicago in person, his actions are far from “a lack of acknowledgment” of the issue.
Secondly, one has to keep in mind Pence’s schedule. The man is running for vice president, after all; maybe he should be cut a little slack if he doesn’t make it around to every Hoosier town experiencing a calamity through November. As for visiting Kokomo, perhaps it worked out that Pence had just enough time to squeeze in a visit to the areas affected by tornadoes, but not East Chicago, which happened afterwards. The fact that Pence also did not visit the five northern Indiana counties devastated by flooding just a few days afterwards suggests that Pence is just a busy man and not “fueled in part by racism and classism,” as Goodwine stated.
There is, of course, the possibility that Pence intentionally did not visit East Chicago, and I would argue that he might have been justified in this. When I googled “East Chicago crime rates,” the first result to pop up was a featured snippet from www.neighborhoodscout.com. It stated the following: “For East Chicago, we found that the violent crime rate is one of the highest in the nation, across communities of all sizes (both large and small).” That doesn’t sound like a great place for a vice president nominee to be hanging out. Kokomo, while not devoid of crime by any means, has a third less violent crime than East Chicago and twice the population.
While we could debate all day, there really isn’t a way to determine Pence’s motivations in not visiting East Chicago besides asking the man himself. Perhaps he is a closet racist. But jumping to this conclusion without giving him a chance to defend his actions seems awfully presumptuous and looks to be the actions of a critic looking for reasons to tear him apart. Even if Pence were to visit East Chicago within the next few days to show his concern in person, I would guess such naysayers would still find reasons to call him “awful” and “deplorable.”