A comparison of views in Louisville and Oklahoma City helps explain why changing the way law enforcement works has proved to be so difficult even in the wake of last year’s nationwide protests.

Since Breonna Taylor’s death in 2020, Louisville has seen protests and scrutiny. Police officers used a no knock warrant to enter Taylor’s apartment as she was sleeping. In contrast, Oklahoma City continues to register wide public approval of the police even though the state has the highest mortality rate from police violence in the country.

But while the two cities have different assessments about whether there’s a problem that needs fixing, residents in both worry more about rising crime than police misconduct. New USA TODAY/Suffolk University CityView surveys show that residents place safety first over reforming law enforcement. 

Louisville’s residents had more people citing public safety than police reform as the greatest problem facing their city. Police reform was the last of nine community issues that Oklahoma City residents ranked. The progressives slogan of “defunding the police” was supported by only a small fraction in each place.

Oklahoma City:Survey shows striking differences between races in how the public views police officers

Carol Davenport (65), a Oklahoma City nurse, said that she would not like to imagine how the world might look if it was up to us to take care of ourselves. When you are not responsible for what they do, it’s quite easy to just look away with a smartphone or camera.

Tyrone Weaver (52) from Louisville was shocked by Taylor’s tragic death. In a follow up interview, he stated that there are officers who do the right things, but it was difficult to believe police in the wake of Taylor’s death.

He has seen little change since she was killed in March 2020. He stated, “It’s difficult to see little steps.”

Are police allowed to use force when needed? Are police’s actions affected by race? What is the right line to draw between crime concern and police accountability?

These questions were asked during the new CityView polls sponsored by USA TODAY, Suffolk University’s Political Research Center and the Louisville Courier JournalAnd The Oklahoman.  Throughout 2021, the series of surveys in major American cities – including Milwaukee, Detroit and Los Angeles – has explored attitudes toward policing and community.

The polls of 500 residents in each city, taken by landline and cell phone from Nov. 10 to 15, have a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

Before juries delivered verdicts in the two most recent trials, which attracted international attention, surveys were taken. Kyle Rittenhouse, who was accused of murder and other charges in the deaths and injuries to two people during protests following Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Kenosha (Wisconsin), on February 20, 2017, was exonerated. Three white men were found guilty in Brunswick, Georgia of the murder of Ahmaud Abery, a Black man.

More:Milwaukeeans are unhappy with the police in the face of a nationwide reckoning

Since massive nationwide protests after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis last year raised hopes of action, legislation on criminal justice reform has languished in Congress. Although the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March largely on party lines, the Senate fell apart after months of bipartisan negotiations in September. Minneapolis voters rejected the proposal to replace police with a Department of Public Safety last month. 

The issues will be a major issue in next year’s midterm elections as well as the presidential election of 2024. They are characterized by sharp partisanships and racial differences. The findings also signal a clear opening for Republicans among Latinos, a growing demographic group that has leaned Democratic but is increasingly wooed by the GOP.

Demonstrators hold up images of Breonna Taylor as they rally in front of the U.S. Department of Justice in protest following a Kentucky grand jury decision in the Breonna Taylor case on Sept. 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. A Kentucky grand jury indicted one police officer involved in the shooting of Breonna Taylor with 3 counts of wanton endangerment. No officers were indicted on charges in connection to Taylor's death.

The faith in Louisville police has been eroded 

The death of Taylor and the way police handled the shooting’s aftermath have eroded confidence in local law enforcement in Louisville. Respondents surveyed by 45 percent said that they have lost their faith.You can expect to see 4 in 10 black people and 6 in 10 whites in the police force as a consequence. Overall, just 7% gained trust. 

Josie Timmons (38) a 38-year old graduate student was one of the respondents. Because of her chronic pain, she said that she wasn’t able to join the demonstrations. She tried other methods, such as providing water and food for marchers.

The protests drew negative responses from the majority of city residents. By 53%-31%, they said the marches had hurt the community, not helped it.

“I feel it was blown way out of control, you know?” said Jean Petri, who reported her faith in the police had been strengthened. Jean Petri said, “I was not there. So who knows the truth?” She said that she felt that a lot the crimes that have been occurring since Ms. Breonna’s passing is due to that fact.

Louisville had a distinct divide in terms of race when it came to assessing the effectiveness of police tactics. Black residents claimed that police were using force when they weren’t needed by 62%-23%. Whites, on the other hand, said that police use force when it is necessary. 

Oklahoma City was characterized by a similar division. A majority of white residents, 61% to 29%, stated that police only used force when absolutely necessary. But Black residents by 51%-34% said they used force when it wasn’t necessary.

More:Rodney King was beaten and this sparked calls for reform in the police force. LA Polls 30 Years Later, it is clear that there are still many things to do.

Trevour Webb, now 27 and the father of two, has never forgotten a frightening episode when he was 12 years old and playing a game of cops-and-robbers outside with his stepfather. Unhappy neighbors “ended up calling police, saying that there was a black man holding a gun and another with a baseball bat.” A dozen to twelve cops were sent to the area.

Webb who is an industrial painter said that although I was afraid of putting my hands down, everything inside me wanted to reach for the fake gun and show them how it works. He later asked an officer about what would happen if it did. He said that it would not have been beautiful.

Some of those surveyed in Oklahoma City said they were surprised to hear that the state had the highest rate of police violence against Black people in the country, both in the period 2000-2009 and the period 2010-2019.  Study by The Lancet released 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 instance.

Candice Tracy (retired mortgage banker) said, “It is sad because, you remember, I am a 72-year old Caucasian. I’m going to get treated differently than other people.” “And although I suppose I am fortunate, I was truly surprised.”

Six in 10 of those in Oklahoma City said neither the news media nor the public had paid enough attention to the issue. However, there were also doubts about the information that has been published. They believe that the media exaggerates reports of racism and police brutality by double-digits (57%-36%). 

Black Lives Matter rally in Oklahoma City, Sunday, July 10, 2016.

Latinos prefer public safety 

According to police assessments, Latinos were more inclined than Blacks to agree with white views. This finding could have political implications. The police were rated more favourably by them and the public safety was a greater concern than African Americans.

Louisville had a more positive perception of police from Latinos than did whites. Nearly 2-1 (61%-32%) of them said police only used force when needed. Nearly 1/5 Oklahoma City residents are Hispanic. They voted 57%-25% for the use of force by police. 

Jamie Crowe, 42 years old, is satisfied with Oklahoma City’s police work. She works at the chamber of commerce in Oklahoma City and was called to the poll. She’s become more concerned about rising incidents of crime and violence, sometimes tied to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said, “When I run along the river, my eyes must be wide-open.” I have to be attentive.”

More:Detroit residents are far more worried than about police reform when it comes to public safety

Latinos in Louisville expressed more concerned about public safety than Black or white people. Only 1% and 1% respectively of Hispanics in Oklahoma City cited police reform as the greatest problem, while 9% of Blacks ranked it the top issue. A further 20% of Blacks identified race relations as their top concern. Hispanics as well as whites considered education to be the number one issue.

The idea to “defund police” was rejected by overwhelming numbers of people from both racial groups and ethnicities in both cities. There was more support – by 47% in Louisville and 41% in Oklahoma City – for cutting some police funding to use the money for social services.

The issues are complicated, said Angela Novey, 50, a partner in a pharmaceutical research company in Oklahoma City. She opposes “the vernacular” of “defund-the-police” but thinks it makes sense to cut some police funding in favor of social service programs that might be better suited to handle some situations. 

Novey stated that she is a white woman and has never been in an unfortunate encounter with police. “I do not have to be concerned about being misunderstood as someone else or having something happen where I am not treated fair. You don’t. It doesn’t happen for me. However, it is there and it exists for others.

Contributing: Kala Kachmar and Morgan Watkins in Louisville; Hogan Gore and Jana Hayes  in Oklahoma City. 

Source: USAToday.com


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