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Buttigieg Campaign Used Stock Photo of Kenyan Woman to Illustrate Plan for Black America

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Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, struggling to build support among black voters, removed from its website a photo of a Kenyan woman that was used earlier this year to illustrate his plan to dismantle racism in the United States.

The photo of the woman kneeling and talking to a child, selected from an assortment of stock photos available for public reuse, was first posted over the summer as part of the rollout of Mr. Buttigieg’s “Douglass Plan,” billed as “a comprehensive investment in the empowerment of black America.”

The plan includes health care, education and voting-rights reforms as well as proposals to address discrimination in policing and criminal justice.

Mr. Buttigieg has failed to gain traction among black voters — a critical constituency in the path to the Democratic nomination — even as polls show he is building support in largely white Iowa. A poll of likely Democratic primary voters in South Carolina, released Monday by Quinnipiac University, found that Mr. Buttigieg had the support of less than 1 percent of black voters.

A statement released by Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign apologized for “confusion” and said the photo — which was posted on the website by a contractor working for the campaign — was removed from the Douglass plan webpage in mid-September in a “regular update” to the site. Once the campaign learned that the photo was taken in Kenya, it was removed in recent days from other places on the site as well.

“The stock photo in question, which is widely utilized across the internet, was initially selected while a contractor was running our site, and the website it was pulled from did not indicate the photo was taken in Kenya in any way,” the campaign said. “As our campaign has grown, we have brought all of our web development in-house to help guard against mistakes like this. We apologize for its use and the confusion it created.”

The error was first reported by The Intercept after the woman in the photo, shot in Kenya, expressed confusion as to why she had appeared on a website for an American presidential campaign.

Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign last month released a list of 400 South Carolinians who had endorsed his Douglass plan, but The Intercept reported on Friday that several complained that the list, published in HBCU Times, erroneously implied that they had endorsed Mr. Buttigieg’s plan and his candidacy.

In South Bend, Ind., where he is mayor, Mr. Buttigieg’s administration has struggled with allegations of racial division, much of it surrounding his police department.

Mr. Buttigieg stirred controversy when he fired the department’s black police chief shortly after taking office, and he left the campaign trail in June to return home after a white South Bend officer shot and killed a black man, prompting protests.

Reacting on Monday to the controversy over the stock photo, Senator Kamala Harris of California, the only black woman in the presidential race, told reporters that its posting was a “big mistake” that Mr. Buttigieg would have to answer for, and that it was up to each candidate to demonstrate the “ability to be relevant to the diversity of who we are as a country.”

She added: “You can’t unify folks if you don’t understand who they are, and their specific needs, and the right that they have to be represented — based not on a stock photograph but who they actually are.”

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