As the decision in Kentucky to bring charges against only one of three police officers involved in a raid that killed Breonna Taylor sparks renewed protests nationwide, a new survey finds support has fallen for demonstrations against systemic racism.
The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 44% of Americans disapprove of protests in response to police violence against Black Americans, while 39% approve. In June, 54% approved. The new survey was conducted Sept. 11-14, before Wednesday's announcement that a lone Louisville police officer would be charged in the Taylor case, but not for her actual death.
Overnight, demonstrators in cities from New York to Las Vegas marched through streets and chanted Taylor’s name. Two officers were wounded by gunfire at protests in Louisville, where authorities made close to 100 arrests on charges of damaging businesses, refusing to disperse after curfew and unlawful assembly.
The poll finds the percentage of Americans who believe police violence unequally targets Black Americans and that greater consequences for police brutality are necessary have also fallen from June, when an AP-NORC survey found sweeping changes in how Americans view these issues.
The June survey followed the late May killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, which renewed focus on Taylor's earlier death, in March. On Wednesday, a Kentucky grand jury declined to charge any officers for their role in Taylor's killing; she was shot multiple times after officers entered her home using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation.
It was Floyd's death in Minneapolis — captured on video by witnesses — that sparked several months of nationwide unrest in which hundreds of thousands of Americans protested against systemic racism and police brutality, while others, including President Donald Trump, expressed solidarity with police and law enforcement officers.
The new poll finds the recent shift in opinion is pronounced among white Americans and Republicans, whose views on police violence and racial inequity in policing look closer to the way they did in 2015 after the high-profile police killings of several Black men. Just 35% of white Americans approve of the protests now, while 50% disapprove. In June, 53% approved, while 34% disapproved.
Among Latinos, 31% approve, compared with 44% in June; 63% of Black Americans support the protests, down from 81%, with more now saying they neither approve nor disapprove.
“I was supportive back in June, but after seeing everything up until now, I’m almost dead against them,” said Dave Hipelious, 63, of New Lenox, Illinois, who is a retired pipe fitter in the energy industry.
Hipelious, who is white, said his support for the protests soured when he saw violent unrest, arson and looting that marred the largely peaceful demonstrations following Floyd’s death.
“I was a pretty wild young man,” Hipelious said. “Every time the police stopped me, and every issue I had with them, I was completely in the wrong. I do believe they are doing their job right.”
Eighty-four percent of Black Americans, but just 42% of white Americans and 50% of Latinos, say police more often use deadly force against a Black person than a white person. While 74% of Black Americans say the criminal justice system is too lenient when officers cause injury or death, 47% of white Americans and 50% of Latinos say the same.
University of Michigan political scientist Christian Davenport said the nation has historically seen public support wane among white Americans for social justice movements — what he calls “compassion fatigue.”
“When this was all about the video and the visceral response to seeing someone’s life get squeezed out of them, that’s fine,” Davenport said. “But from the moment that topic is raised to awareness, the clock starts ticking with regards to, ‘How quickly can we resolve this so I can get back to my normal life?’”
The change also comes after months of political sparring between Democrats and Republicans, including Trump. Both sides hope to use the protests to their advantage in the upcoming general election.
Among Republicans, 75% say they disapprove of the protests, up from 56% in June. Just 9% approve, down from 29% then. And more Republicans now describe protests as mostly or all violent, 52% vs. 36%. Among Democrats, 70% approve, and close to half describe them as mostly or all peaceful. Still, roughly as many describe them as a mix of both.
BriAndia Andrews, 21, of Bloomington, Illinois, who is Black, said she believes most of the protests have been done “correctly.” Still, she feels “our voices are not going to be heard once you have people looting and stuff like that.”
Given how race in America has become a key focus of politics this year, Andrews said she believes opinions about the protests among white Americans and Republicans only changed because of Trump’s rhetoric.
“If you’re a Trump supporter and you were also protesting, that could have influenced your opinion of the protests,” she said.
Overall, Americans are less likely than they were in June to say deadly force is more commonly used against a Black person than a white person, 50% vs. 61%. And fewer now say that officers who cause injury or death on the job are treated too leniently by the justice system, 52% vs. 65%.
The poll reflects a reality that, despite an unprecedented show of support for the movement over the summer, a majority have not participated, said the Rev. Starsky Wilson, the incoming president of the Children’s Defense Fund.
“We have malformed memory about what peaceful assembly and public protest has always looked like,” said Wilson, who served as co-chair of the Ferguson Commission, a group that recommended reforms after the 2014 police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Many of the things that we remember fondly now are things that were reviled in the moment,” he said.
The AP-NORC poll of 1,108 adults was conducted using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.
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