Are White People Finally Coming Around on Police Brutality?

For a long time there’s been a huge Black-white gulf in opinions about police brutality: Black people think it’s common while white people think it’s rare. In a 1968 poll taken after the 1967 riots, for example, 51 percent of Black respondents said police brutality was a major cause of the violence. Only 10 percent of white respondents agreed. That’s a 41 point gap.

So what’s happened since then? It’s impossible to find polls with identical question wording, but I dug up a few that were all related to police use of force and had crosstabs for Black and white respondents. Here are the results:

Between 1968 and 2014, there’s no movement. But in 2019, five years after Ferguson, there’s a noticeable drop: white opinion is only 30 points different from Black opinion. And in a YouGov poll taken a few days ago, there’s yet another drop. By next week or the week after, who knows?

I’ll caution again not to read too much into this since each of these polls asks its question differently, but it looks like the events of the past five years really have changed white opinion a fair amount. If we go through another week like the last one, where smartphone video of obvious police brutality is leading the evening news night after night, we might get pretty close to zero. The George Floyd protests might be what finally awaken white America to the fact that Black movements against police abuse are, and always have been, justified and just.

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