When protests are reaction and an expression of frustration

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People gather at a memorial for George Floyd that has been created at the place where he was taken into police custody and later pronounced dead in Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 1, 2020. (Photo: Reuters Lucas Jackson)

NEW YORK – As demonstrations raged across America in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, talks and discussions in households quickly heated up, to topics ranging from police reforms to elitism, future of colored youth; discrimination, and if diversity would indeed find more tolerance in a post-protest world.

Today, on Juneteenth – the anniversary of the day in 1865 that Union forces announced in Texas that slaves were free, more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation – corporate America has responded, with many companies giving a paid day off to their employees to reflect more on the same lines.

Most immigrants follow devoutly America’s dictum of ‘playing by the rules’; consider it a mantra in itself, with stout adherence to law and order a given in their adopted land. While most understood the raw anger and protests that followed after Floyd’s brutal death, what upset some of them were viral images and videos of uninhibited looting and arson that followed.

It seemed a similar pattern, recurrence of vandalism and brazen stealing followed after every high-profile case of a black man brutalized by law enforcement personnel.

A new Pew Research Center survey of 9,654 US adults, conducted June 4-10, 2020, using the Center’s American Trends Panel, in conjunction with the Center’s American News Pathways project, show that the country see the protests both as a reaction to Floyd’s death and an expression of frustration over longstanding issues.

Most adults say tensions between black people and police and concerns about the treatment of black people in the US – in addition to anger over Floyd’s death – have contributed a great deal to the protests.

It’s also apparent from the survey that America is quite divided when it comes to the role of rioting and looting.

About six-in-ten adults say some people taking advantage of the situation to engage in criminal behavior has also been a major contributing factor in the protests. There are wide partisan gaps in these views.

While roughly eight-in-ten Republicans and those who lean Republican say people taking advantage to engage in criminal behavior has been a major factor, only about four-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners agree. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say protesters have been motivated by longstanding concerns about the treatment of black people.

Fewer than half of black adults (43%) say some people taking advantage of the situation has contributed a great deal to the protests. By contrast, 62% of white adults see this as contributing a great deal. The views of Hispanic and Asian adults are more in line with those of white adults on this issue: 58% of Hispanic and 55% of Asian adults say this factor contributed a great deal to the protest.

The Black Lives Matter movement, which is back in the headlines amid the nationwide protests, receives wide support, according to the survey. Two-thirds of US adults say they support the movement, with 38% saying they strongly support it. This sentiment is particularly strong among black Americans, although majorities of white (60%), Hispanic (77%) and Asian (75%) Americans express at least some support.

Trump was lambasted in the survey, with six-in-ten Americans say the president has been delivering the wrong message to the country in response to these protests. Asked about Trump’s handling of race relations more generally, about half (48%) say he has made race relations worse; 19% say he has made progress toward improving race relations, 19% say he has tried but failed to make progress and 12% say the president hasn’t addressed the issue.

Americans for sure are talking to family and friends about race and racial equality: 69%, including majorities across racial and ethnic groups, say they have done so in the last month. And 37% of those who use social networking sites say they have posted or shared content related to race or racial equality on these sites during this period.

Smaller shares say they have contributed money to a group or organization that focuses on race or racial equality (9%), contacted a public official to express their opinion on these issues (7%), or attended a rally or protest focused on these issues (6%) in the last month. About one-in-ten among black (10%), Hispanic (9%) and Asian (10%) adults say they have attended a protest, compared with 5% of white adults, says the survey.

It’s also likely that protests are going to be a way of life, every time a controversy like that of the Floyd killing occurs.

A majority of Americans (55%) see protests and rallies as a very or somewhat effective tactic for groups and organizations that work to help black people achieve equality, but just 19% say this is a very effective tool. More say working directly with black people to solve problems in their local communities (82%), bringing people of different racial backgrounds together to talk about race (74%), and working to get more black people elected to office (68%) would be at least somewhat effective tactics.

The largest divide, as expected, is between the liberal and conservative viewpoint when it comes to longstanding concerns about the treatment of black people in the country, according to the Pew survey. While 84% of Democrats say these concerns have contributed a great deal to the protests, only 45% of Republicans say the same.

The survey points out that it’s not just blacks who bear the brunt of discrimination: most black (83%), Asian (73%) and Hispanic (65%) Americans say they have experienced discrimination or have been treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity either regularly or from time to time. In comparison, 31% of white adults say they have experienced discrimination because of their race or ethnicity.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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