Public Safety, Police Violence, & Systemic Racism
A survey focused on the impact of the aftermath and events following the killing of George Floyd.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, protests erupted at home and abroad to fight against police violence and in defense of Black lives. Public polling on this topic was one-dimensional, simply measuring support for Black Lives Matter, favorability toward police, and views toward the term “Defund the Police.” These questions are often written by pollsters who do not conduct qualitative research among diverse communities. Additionally, the media often report these events and poll findings narrowly through a political or adversarial lens. We wanted to contribute substantive research to inform media and public policy discussions.
Most agreed that cultures of violence, racism, power, and control are reasons for police violence.
- 46% of Black men in the survey say a police officer has pointed a gun at them or a close loved one
- 54% of adults say local police make them feel safe – the rest feel a mix of safety and unsafety
- 46% of women say if they were sexually assaulted, they aren’t sure whether police would help the situation or make things worse
- 66% support sending a social worker to a call about a homeless person who is loitering, instead of an armed police officer
- 69% support sending a mental health expert to a situation involving mental health, instead of an armed police officer
- 73% support sending a health care professional to a medical emergency, instead of an armed police officer
- 1 in 3 adults say that calling the police in an emergency may make the situation worse or they’re unsure that police would be helpful
- 1 in 3 say they have felt less safe because they were in the presence of a police officer
What We Learned
One-dimensional public polling makes policy solutions seem controversial.
Much of what policymakers, the media, and the public know about public opinion on any emerging topic comes from a handful of one-dimensional survey research questions that are not informed by qualitative research – nor reflective of diverse audiences. Understanding attitudes toward public safety, police violence, and systemic racism is nearly impossible if we only rely on these smattering of polls. That’s why part of our mission is to get beneath the surface, ask questions from a variety of angles, rooted in qualitative research, from diverse perspectives.
How do we move forward on the key policy issues, when the storytellers (policymakers and media) don’t understand how the public thinks and feels? Policymakers are affected by perceptions of public opinion. If they understand where the public truly is – with millions of Americans unable to rely on their local police – and majority support for new ways of responding to emergencies, the opportunities for progress open up.