The Pervasiveness of Racism in Policing: Report Says Half of Black Millennials Know a Victim of Police Abuse

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Zimmerman verdict demonstrators march toward Times Square (Credit: AP/John Minchillo)
Zimmerman verdict demonstrators march toward Times Square (Credit: AP/John Minchillo)Report: Half of Black Millennials Know a Victim of Police Violence, While Nearly a Quarter Know a Victim of Gun Violence

A new study focusing on Black millennials, policing, guns and the justice system helps to substantiate the claim that violence against Black people is a problem that is not imagined.  Even several years before the birth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, young Black people identified problems of violence that have now reached center stage in a national debate.

As reported in the Associated Press, the “Black Millennials in America” report, authored by the Black Youth Project at the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, found markedly disparate attitudes among Black, Latino, Asian and white millennials on police abuse.  The differences reflect the divergent experiences of these groups of young people based on their background.

The 2009 Mobilization and Change Survey, released to the AP today, revealed that when asked the question, “Have you or anyone you know experienced harassment or violence at the hands of the police?” 54.4 percent of Black millennials answered in the affirmative, as opposed to nearly one-third of whites, a quarter of Latinos and 28 percent of Asian-Americans.

And yet, a large majority of young Blacks surveyed—71 percent—also said the police are in “there to protect you,” along with 85 percent of whites, 76 percent of Latinos and 89 percent of Asians.

“We know that young blacks are more likely to be harassed by the police. We know that they are more likely to mistrust their encounters with the police,” said Cathy Cohen, chair of the political science department at the University of Chicago and leader of the Black Youth Project. “But we also know from actually collecting data that a majority of them believe that police in their neighborhood are actually there to protect them, so I think it provides us with more complexity.”

Meanwhile, another survey conducted in 2013 by the group, the Black Youth Project Quarterly Survey, found that more Blacks and Latinos knew someone who was the victim of gun violence, even as the percentage of these groups new knew someone who carried a gun dropped.  In that study, 22 percent of Black millennials, 14 percent of Latinos and 8 percent of whites said they or someone they knew were victims of gun violence in the previous year.  But 24 percent of Blacks, 22 percent of Latinos and  46 percent of whites, said they knew someone who had a gun.

In the 2014 Black Youth Project survey, only 38 percent of all millennials agree that “the American legal system treats all groups fairly,” despite quite different experiences of people across racial lines.  Further, although Black millennials are the most pessimistic about the U.S. justice system, they are most optimistic about their potential to make a difference by participating in politics.

To make the point, only 26.8 percent of Black millennials agree with the assertion that the American legal system is fair to everyone.  However, 41 percent of whites, 36.7 percent of Latinos and 38.1 percent of Asians agreed with that statement.  In contrast, 71 percent of Black millennials look to political participation as a way to make a difference in society, while slightly more than half of other groups (56 percent of Latinos and 52 percent of whites) agree.

These results are telling, and an indicator of why the #BlackLivesMatter movement has gained so much traction, and has maximized its effectiveness in inserting itself in the national debate on policing and criminal justice reform.   The data bolsters the argument, known by anecdote and personal experience in the Black community for so long, that the crisis against Black bodies is a real one, and not merely a figment of our imagination.

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