BOSTON (CBS) – The protesters want police reform. The president wants “law and order.”
How is the broader public reacting to these dueling demands? Current and past polling sketch the outlines of striking change in public attitudes toward police violence against civilians.
Over the years when they’ve polled confidence and respect for public institutions, only the military and small business have scored better numbers than police.
In 2014 alone we saw graphic video of police killings of Eric Garner, who choked to death in their custody in New York, and Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old in Cleveland playing with a toy gun. In early 2015 we also saw Walter Scott murdered by a police officer, shot in the back five times.
In the wake of these widely-publicized atrocities, confidence in police fell among blacks (-5% ), Hispanics (-14%), and people aged 18-34 (-12%).
And a new Washington Post/Schar School poll shows how the anger and skepticism is spreading.
In 2014, after a summer of street protests sparked by the Garner case and the events in Ferguson, Missouri, 51% of those polled said those cases were isolated incidents, while 43% saw them as part of a broader problem with police. Six years and numerous caught-on-camera incidents later, there’s been a huge swing in those numbers: 69% say its part of a broader problem, while just 29% think it’s an isolated incident.
And one last remarkable finding from the Post survey: 74% overall support the protests, even 53% of Republicans.
There has always been an anti-authoritarian strain in American culture. Most of us support the police, but even for some of our most conservative citizens, there is such a thing as going too far.
And in the face of video after video showing a level of force and brutality that only a reactionary police-union official or a defense lawyer would call justified, it appears the vast majority of us believe the cops are going too far, too often.