Public opinion about satisfaction with the treatment of Blacks in America has declined since 2013, according to a poll by Gallup. The poll questioned national adults, whites, Blacks and Hispanics. All four groups saw a decline by at least 14 percent when going from 2013 to 2015.
Satisfaction among national adults is pegged at 49 percent — the lowest it’s been since the poll’s inception in 2001. This is a sharp decline from just two years ago, when it was 62 percent. Whites also saw a significant lowering from 2013, when 67 percent said they were satisfied. Now whites see almost an even split, with 53 percent satisfied. Similarly, Hispanics shifted from 61 to 49 percent.
Blacks have consistently expressed the lowest percentage of satisfaction since 2001. In 2013, the majority of every other group expressed satisfaction with how Blacks were treated — but only 47 percent of Blacks agreed. In 2015, this number has gone down even lower to 33 percent.
Another poll, conducted by Pew Research Center, found similar results. This poll asked Americans whether or not “our country has made the changes needed to give blacks equal rights with whites.” From 2009 until 2014 the divide was fairly even; however, 2015 saw a significant change: 59 percent saw the need to continue making changes, compared to just 32 percent who did not. When Blacks and whites were polled separately, a similar pattern emerged: while Blacks always saw the need for change, the number went up to 89 percent in 2015, the highest it’s been since the poll began in 2009. Meanwhile, whites who saw a need for change in 2014 was at just 39 percent but jumped to 53 percent this year.
The obvious reason would be the number of Blacks killed by police officers over recent months. Interestingly, though, another Gallup poll did not see much change in how Blacks believe they are treated by police.
In 1999, 15 percent of Blacks said they could recall a time in the prior 30 days when they were treated less fairly “in dealings with the police, such as traffic incidents,” due to their race. This number fluctuated throughout the low 20s range throughout the early 2000s. But in 2015 it went down to 18 percent.
Initially, the findings seem to contradict each other — a surge in dissatisfaction with how Blacks are treated would, logically, be a result of more Blacks being treated unfairly. But a possible explanation could be that while the treatment of Blacks in America has not changed significantly, America’s awareness of it has increased.
In April 2015, Walter Scott was murdered by former officer Michael Slager in South Carolina. Video footage showed that Slager shot Scott in the back multiple times, and it also contradicted Slager’s initial account of the incident. Slager was indicted for murder.
Last month marked the first anniversary of the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man who was killed at the hands of the NYPD. The incident sparked media outrage because video footage proved that officer Daniel Pantaleo — who was never charged with a crime — used excessive force in Garner’s arrest.
12-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down by officer Timothy Loehmann in November 2014 after the officer mistook a toy gun for an authentic one. A surveillance camera shows Rice playing outside and being approached by Loehmann, who fires almost immediately. Loehmann has not been charged with a crime.
The commonality among these tragedies is the fact that they were all caught on video. Despite the lack of charges in two of the cases, the video evidence left the officers guilty in the eyes of many people. In the past, an officer’s word was enough to close a case; however, in the era of smart phones and video surveillance, injustices such as these murders cannot be ignored.
Even in the cases where video evidence was not available, such as in the death of Michael Brown, social media has ensured that the names and faces of these men are not forgotten. Brown’s death is often cited as the inspiration of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the goal of which is to raise awareness of these police brutality issues.
The fact that almost the same number of Blacks reported being mistreated today as in the past “can be seen as a positive sign that things are not getting worse, or as a negative sign that things are not getting better,” according to one of the polls. While it is fortunate that the number has not gone up, the next step is for the number to go down. As social media and video footage make these incidents difficult to ignore and awareness continues to increase, more Americans are becoming aware that this is in fact a problem that needs to be not only addressed, but corrected.