Most Minneapolis residents said they believe that George Floyd’s killing was not an isolated incident but reflects a broader problem with how the city’s police treat Black people, according to a new Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota Poll.
That view was shared across racial lines, though white residents were more likely than Black residents to see his death as an example of structural flaws within the Minneapolis Police Department, the poll showed. The findings also showed that residents overwhelmingly believe that Black people and white people are not treated the same by the criminal justice system — a view shared by 96% of Black voters and 82% of white voters.
“It’s rooted in systemic oppression of 400 years of suppressing Black people,” said Undrea Patterson, 42, who is Black. She said that since Floyd’s May 25 death in police custody, many Americans are beginning to face the reality that the criminal justice system is in many ways stacked against people of color. “We’re still dealing with all these systems that were set up to keep Black people in a lesser capacity and not just as real participants in society,” she said.
Patterson, who said her 15-year-old cousin Courtney Williams was fatally shot by police in 2004, said that she is more hopeful for change now because Floyd’s death marked a watershed moment in the city’s history.
The findings come as the embattled city of Minneapolis continues to grapple with a state investigation into allegations of human rights abuses by its officers and other fallout from the police killing of Floyd, which sparked protests against racial injustice and police brutality around the world.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey have promised significant reforms in hopes of building public trust, while saying that institutional change does not happen overnight. Meanwhile, some City Council members are pushing to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department in favor of a new “transformative” public safety system, although a controversial charter amendment that would have opened the door for such a change has been shelved for now.
The poll was conducted for the news organizations by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy Inc., which surveyed 800 registered Minneapolis voters last week, including 146 Black voters. In addition, 354 more interviews were conducted with Black registered voters in the city, for a total of 500. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5% for the sample of 800 registered Minneapolis voters, and the margin of error for the sample of 500 Black Minneapolis registered voters is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
The citywide survey found a generational split on the national Black Lives Matter movement, with 88% of respondents ages 18-34 having a favorable opinion of Black Lives Matter. But support began to drop off some among those 65 and older, 71% of whom were in favor of the movement and its goals.
Black Lives Matter first came to prominence six years ago in response to the fatal shootings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, but was reignited during the unrest that followed Floyd’s death.
ChaRee Headley, 39, said that as a white woman, the incident forced her to dig into difficult conversations with her family.
Headley, an archivist for an architectural firm, said that she recently got into an argument with her grandmother while explaining “that it’s not against the white people, it’s the fact that the white people aren’t stepping up to do what they should be doing to help.”
“She’s refusing to take my phone call right now,” Headley said of her grandmother. “People need to understand that this is not going away — we can’t ignore it, we have to fight the racism and we have to be better.”
Pat Tucker, 73, a retired school secretary who lives with her husband on the North Side, said she supports police because of her neighborhood’s crime problem, but agrees that the department needs to root out a permissive culture that allows certain officers to get away with bad acts for years.
“I think some of the police, not all, have done things in the past that have been overlooked by their department, and therefore if a person’s actions aren’t dealt with then they feel they can continue and probably escalate their behavior even if it’s negative,” said Tucker, who is Black.
On the matter of whether Floyd’s death was part of a bigger pattern of police mistreatment of Blacks, the poll found that respondents’ political leanings influenced their opinions, with 93% of Democrats agreeing there was a broader problem, compared to 58% of Republicans. Women were more likely to hold that view than men, by a 90 to 79% response.
Among Black voters, most were supportive of Black Lives Matter and felt that Floyd’s death was part of a broader problem, although male voters and those over 50 were slightly more likely to see it as an isolated incident. There was equally strong consensus on the question of whether Black people and white people are treated equally by the justice system: An overwhelming majority felt they are not.
Eveline Williams, who is retired after a career in nursing, said that in some ways, the unrest that followed Floyd’s death resembled the urban riots of the 1960s, although she disagreed with the arson and looting now as she did then. She said she felt that police conduct had improved since those days and that Floyd’s death, while tragic, was something of an outlier.
“I think it was isolated, it was just something that happened and shouldn’t have happened, but it did,” said Williams, who is Black. “I live a simple life and I haven’t experienced a lot.”
But the latest poll results suggest a shift in attitudes.
Although it’s not a direct comparison, a 2016 poll of registered voters in the wake of another controversial police shooting, the killing of Jamar Clark, found that 43% of white respondents thought the criminal justice system treated Black people and white people equally, compared with 8% of Black respondents.
When it came to voters’ opinion of Black Lives Matter, 24% of white respondents expressed a favorable view of the movement, while 53% had an unfavorable view; Black voters were 53% and 19%, respectively.