New Polls: White American Views on Race and Police Starting to Change

By Michael Nam


Photo by Shutterstock

In the wake of Freddie Gray’s death and the subsequentunrest in Baltimore, new surveysshow white Americans may be coming to the realization that the nation still struggles with the issue of race relations, and that the manner in which police deal with the Black population reflects these problems.

The New York Times/CBS News pollreleased yesterday shows a stark change in the perception of race relations in respondents, Black and white, between August of last year, not long after the Mike Brown shooting, and the present.

After theunrest in Ferguson, 48 percent of Blacks considered race relations in the U.S. to be generally bad versus 41 percent of whites. At the present, the same poll finds Blacks at 65 percent and whites at 62 percent.

White respondents also show an uptick among those who think race relations are getting worse. Black respondents showed little change.

When analyzing perceptions of the police, there is also a noticeable shift between the shooting incidents in Ferguson and Baltimore:

In general, do you think police in most communities are more likely to use deadly force against a Black person, or more likely to use it against a white person, or don’t you think race affects police use of deadly force

August 19-20, 2014

More likely against a Black personMore likely against a white personRace does not affect
Blacks71120
Whites31158

April 30 May 5, 2015

More likely against a Black personMore likely against a white personRace does not affect
Blacks79116
Whites37253

The national media publicizing the multiple incidents following Mike Brown’s death, includingTamirRice,Eric Garner,RekiaBoydandWalter Scott, may be contributing to white Americans understanding the institutional nature of racial bias and policing.

This interpretation is bolstered by anotherrecent poll taken byYouGov. While a slight majority of white respondents still feel that Blacks are treated fairly by the police, since January of this year, whites appear less sure of the larger implications of police violence against Black men:

Do you think the shooting of Michael Brown/Freddie Gray’s death was an isolated incident, or part of a broader pattern in the way police treat Black men (%ofwhite Americans only)

January 2015April 2015
Isolated Incident5636
Broader Pattern3138

The certainty that the deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of police officers are unrelated incidents seems to be wavering among white respondents, with an uptick in those seeing the issue as part of a larger concept.

The growing recognition of the abuse of power by police in Black communities is welcome news, but the numbers remain low among the white population. It is unfortunate that it takes the wall-to-wall media coverage of tragedy in order for white America to begin to grasp the enormity of the problem.

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