Comparing attitudes in the City of Louisville and Oklahoma helps explain why changing the way law enforcement operates has proved so difficult even after last year’s nationwide protests.
Louisville has been plagued by surveillance and protests since Breonna Taylor was killed in 2020 by police officers who used a ban on breaking into her apartment while she was sleeping. In contrast, Oklahoma City continues to apply for broad police approval even though the state has highest death rate from police violence in the country.
But while the two cities have different assessments of whether there are problems that need fixing, residents in both are more worried about rising crime than police misconduct. In new USA TODAY / Suffolk University CityView polls, they place public safety as a priority over law enforcement reform.
In Louisville, residents are more than twice as likely to cite public safety, not the police, as the biggest problem the city faces. In Oklahoma City, police reform ranked last on a list of nine community concerns. Nowhere was more than one section supporting the progressives’ slogan of “shame the police.”
“I really don’t want to think what our world would be like if we had to fend for ourselves,” said Carol Davenport, 65, a nurse from Oklahoma City who was surveyed. “It’s very easy to turn away from the camera, the phone or whatever and judge what other people are doing when you’re not the one to blame.”
However, in Louisville, 52-year-old Tyrone Weaver, who works for a defense manufacturer, found his faith in the police shaken by what happened to Taylor. “There were some officers who did the right thing, but after her death, it was hard to trust the police,” he said in a follow-up interview.
He’s seen little change since she was killed in March 2020. “It’s hard to see the baby’s steps,” he said.
Do police only use force when necessary? Does race affect their actions? And where do Americans draw the line between concern about crime and the demand for police accountability?
Those questions were asked in two new CityView polls, sponsored by USA TODAY and the University of Suffolk Center for Political Studies in association with Louisville. Courier Magazine and Oklahomans. Throughout 2021, a series of surveys in major US cities – including Milwaukee, Detroit and Los Angeles – explored attitudes towards policy and the community.
The opinion polls of 500 residents in each city, conducted by landline and mobile phones between 10 and 15 November, had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
Investigations carried out before juries returned convictions in two recent trials have attracted national attention. Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of murder and other charges for killing two men and injuring a third during the unrest that followed the Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In Brunswick, Georgia, three white men were convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of a Black man, Ahmaud Arbery.
Since growing up nationwide Demonstration After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year sparked hopes of action, criminal justice reform legislation has ceased to exist in Congress. The house is over George Floyd’s Justice in Policy Act in March, largely party lines, but bipartisan months Negotiations in the Senate collapsed in September. Last month, Minneapolis voters denied proposed to replace the police department with a new Department of Public Safety.
Marked by marked partisan and racial divisions, these issues are likely to become strong in next year’s midterm elections and the 2024 presidential race. signals a clear opportunity for Republicans among Latinos, a growing demographic that leans toward Democrats but is increasingly supported by the GOP.
Trust in the Louisville police is eroded
Taylor’s death and the way police handled the aftermath of the shooting has eroded trust in local law enforcement in Louisville. 45% of residents surveyed said they have lost confidencethe result is in the police, consisting of 4 in 10 whites and 6 in 10 blacks. Overall, only 7% received trust.
“I’ve always known that there’s clearly racial disparity, but, yes, it’s changed more after Breonna Taylor,” said Josie Timmons, 38, a graduate student called in the poll. She said she was frustrated because chronic pain meant she couldn’t join the protests afterward, so she tried to help in other ways, including providing water and snacks for marchers.
But Demonstration also drew a negative reaction from most of the city’s residents. By 53% -31%, they said that the marches hurt the community but did not help.
“I just feel like it’s been blown out of proportion, you know?” Jean Petri said, who said her faith in the police has been strengthened. “I wasn’t there, so who knows what the truth is?” Since then, she said, “I feel a lot of the crime that has happened since Ms. Breonna’s death is a reflection of that circumstance.”
In Louisville, there is a significant racial divide in the assessment of police tactics. At an overwhelming 62%-23%, Black residents said police used force when it was not necessary. But 49%-38% of whites said police only use force when necessary.
Oklahoma City also reflects a similar divide. Whites between 2-1, 61%-29%, said police used force only when necessary. But 51%-34% of Black residents said they used force when it was not necessary.
Trevor Webb, 27 years old and a father of two, has never forgotten a scary episode when he was 12 years old and played catch outside with his stepfather. A disgruntled neighbor “finally called the police saying ‘there was a black man with a gun and a white man with a baseball bat,'” he said. spill over into the surrounding area.
“I was too scared to put my hand down, but everything inside of me wanted to put my hand down and reach for the gun as quickly as possible just to show them, ‘Hey, look, that’s a fake gun,'” Webb said. , who works as an industrial painter. He then asked one of the officers what would happen if it happened. “I remember him specifically looking down, and it still gives me chills to this day, he said it wouldn’t be pretty.”
Some of those surveyed in Oklahoma City said they were surprised to learn that the state had the highest rate of police violence against blacks in the country, both between 2000-2009 and 2010-2019. . Research by fingertips, published in September, found that the age-standardized mortality rate per 100,000 population for non-Hispanic blacks was three times the rate in Kentucky, for example.
Candice Tracy, a retired mortgage banker, said: “It’s sad because I’m 72-year-old white; I’m not going to be treated the way other people are.” “And I guess I’m lucky, but I’m really surprised by that.”
Six out of 10 people in Oklahoma City said neither the media nor the public noticed the issue. But there is also skepticism about what has been reported. In double digits, 57%-36%, they say the media exaggerates stories about police brutality and racism.
For Latinos, public safety prevails
According to police assessments, Latinos were more likely to conform to the views of whites than blacks, a finding that could have political consequences. They rated the police as more favorable and public safety as the dominant concern than African-Americans.
In Louisville, Latinos have an even more positive view of the police than whites. Nearly 2-1, 61%-32%, they believe that the police only use force when necessary. In Oklahoma City, where nearly one-fifth of residents are Hispanic, 57%-25% of them consider the use of force by police appropriate.
“I am satisfied with the work that the Oklahoma City police do,” said Jamie Crowe, 42, who works for the local chamber of commerce and was called in the poll. She has become more concerned about increased crime and violence, sometimes tied to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “When I run along the river, I have to roll my eyes,” she said. “We have to pay attention.”
Latinos in Louisville expressed more concern for public safety than black or white people. In Oklahoma City, just 1% of Hispanics and 1% of whites said police reform was the biggest problem facing the city, compared with 9% of Blacks. Another 20% of blacks consider race relations a top issue. Education is a top issue for whites and Hispanics.
In both cities, the idea of ”beating the police” was rejected outright across races and ethnicities. There was more support – 47% in Louisville and 41% in Oklahoma City – for cutting some police funding to use the money for social services.
Angela Novey, 50, a partner with a pharmaceutical research firm in Oklahoma City, says the issues are complex. She opposes the “dialect” of “defund-the-Police” but thinks cutting some police funding to support social service programs may be more suitable to handle a number of situations is reasonable.
“I’m a white woman, and I’ve never had a nasty encounter with the police, you know, in my adult life,” Novey said. “I don’t have to worry about being mistaken for someone else or something happening that I’m not being treated fairly. I don’t have to. I don’t exist in a world that happens to me. But I know it. It’s out there and I know it’s there for other people.”
Contributors: Kala Kachmar and Morgan Watkins of Louisville; Hogan Gore and Jana Hayes in Oklahoma City.