A majority of likely Minnesota voters — 56% — feel the criminal justice system does not treat Black people and white people equally, according to a new Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota Poll.
The Minnesota poll also found that about half of respondents think civilian violence against people and property in U.S. cities is a bigger problem right now than police violence against Black people nationwide.
Meanwhile, 42% of likely voters now have a favorable opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The poll follows a summer of civil unrest in Minneapolis and other cities across the country, where protesters marched in response to the death of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police. In the Twin Cities, rioters set fire to a police precinct and damaged hundreds of buildings.
The Minnesota Poll's findings are based on interviews with 800 likely Minnesota voters that were conducted between Sept. 21 and Sept. 23, four months after Floyd's death. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Opinion has shifted substantially from 2016, when the Minnesota Poll found only about a third of likely voters thought the criminal justice system treated white and Black people unequally.
While 36% responding to this month's poll said they felt Floyd's death was an isolated incident, about half of voters said they felt it was a sign of a broader problem in the treatment of Black people by Minneapolis police.
"I feel like they respond in different ways based on the person that they're potentially going to apprehend," said Derek Landseidel, a 29-year-old teacher from Minneapolis who responded to the poll. "That would indicate that they have some sort of implicit bias, which I know is not a word cops like to hear."
Landseidel, who is white, said everyone has bias — including teachers — but people get defensive when they hear it. Public servants, he said, should especially listen.
"If you know you have it, be receptive to changing that," he said. "Even as teachers we have to … identify the problems that we have internally."
Poll responses for some questions on race and justice differed widely by location: 70% of respondents living in Hennepin and Ramsey counties said the justice system does not treat Black and white people equally, for instance, compared to 54% in the suburbs.
And respondents in northern and southern Minnesota were more apt to say that civilian violence is a greater problem than police violence against Black people: 65% in northern Minnesota, 60% in southern Minnesota, 55% in metro suburbs and 36% in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.
Tom Richgels, who lives in the south metro, said he believes there are bound to be all types of people in police ranks — including some racist officers — but measures are in place to deal with them appropriately. Richgels said he does not believe that the justice system in general is "systemically out to get Black people."
"I think absolutely it has been in the past … there was legal oppression or there was legal discrimination against Black people for a long time in many different forms," he said. But today is different, he added: "Show me a law today that says 'you can do this if you're white but you can't do it if you're Black.' Show me one, and we'll fight to have that law abolished."
Richgels said he is more disturbed by civilian violence against people and property in U.S. cities.
The video of George Floyd's death is "a pretty horrible thing to watch. … I totally get the outrage and the protesters … it created a lot of emotion and anger and frustration and rightfully so, I think," Richgels said.
But, he said, statistically, it was an isolated incident.
"I just think we've gotten away from reality and I think the protesters who are committing crimes and being violent are doing so under a false narrative that quite frankly is a lot, a lot, a lot of political stuff going on right now. Everything's being politicized because we've got the elections coming up. … I get frustrated seeing towns get destroyed."
Jodi Olson, a 52-year-old heavy-equipment mechanic from Hibbing, said he responded that he views the Black Lives Matter movement unfavorably after hearing recently that a Chicago BLM organizer was quoted as saying she didn't care if someone looted a Gucci or Macy's or Nike store "because that makes sure that person eats. That makes sure that person has clothes. That is reparations. Anything they want to take, take it because these businesses have insurance."
Olson, who is white, said destroying property is wrong no matter who does it.
"At one time I think they were on the right track, but somehow they got some radical people in there and now they've veered off the track of what I think what their original mission and goal in life was," Olson said.
Litchfield resident Robert Eddy, a retired IT specialist, said he viewed the Black Lives Matter movement favorably because he believes it was formed to send a message about inequality.
But, Eddy, 72, said that from his perch in a predominantly white, rural community, he was unsure how much the group could be linked with the violence that spun out of some protests, just as he was unsure whether the justice system treats people equally.
"I really don't have any experience to say one way or the other. … I don't see that [unequal treatment] and I watch some of the court action, but I don't see anything that says that there's anything incorrect about the way they operate," said Eddy, who is white. "Maybe I could say I don't think so here, but I don't know about other places where the population is different."
North Minneapolis community organizer Roxxanne O'Brien said she was surprised the statewide poll results didn't show a higher percentage of people seeing inequity in the justice system.
O'Brien, who is Black, said the education system and media often aren't teaching people the truth, but are instead using narratives aligned with white supremacy. Answers to poll questions will depend on a person's background, she said.
"It's hard for people to be aware of issues if they can't empathize, if they haven't had the actual experience of being treated unjustly," she said. "If you don't have to experience it, then you don't really know. You don't have to know."