Black Lives Matter Elicits Mixed Opinions On Race Relations

A new poll shows that Americans aren't convinced the movement has had an impact on soothing racial tensions.
Protestor Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rou
Protestor Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016.

Although more American voters see racial discrimination as a major problem than they did a little over a year ago, voters are divided as to whether or not the Black Lives Matter movement has made things better, according to a new poll by Monmouth University. This sentiment persists in the aftermath of multiple police shootings of black civilians.

The movement initially emerged in 2013 following the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who shot him. The movement has since expanded exponentially in size, organization and tactics ― urging political leaders to reform and address systemic racism endemic in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

Although the Black Lives Matter movement has shone a light on institutional racism and heightened racial discourse in the country, the overarching perception is that it hasn’t helped improve race relations, according to the Monmouth poll. Only 10 percent of all nationwide voters say that the Black Lives Matter movement has made racial issues in the United States better, while 48 percent say it has made things worse. Fifty-five percent of white voters say the movement has made race relations worse, whereas 51 percent of black voters say it hasn’t had much impact.

Other polls released earlier this month also point to the notion that race relations are worsening. Nearly 3 in 4 American voters say that race relations in the United States are bad, including 32 percent who characterize them as “very bad,” according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll. This statistic reflects a similar level of pessimism that was evident after the Rodney King verdict 24 years ago. A recent New York Times/CBS poll shows that racial discontent is at its highest point in the Obama presidency. That poll also found that 77 percent of African-Americans are sympathetic with the Black Lives Matter movement, compared with only 37 percent of whites.

Demonstrators hold placards during a march by various groups, including "Black Lives Matter" and "Shut Down Trump and the RNC
Demonstrators hold placards during a march by various groups, including "Black Lives Matter" and "Shut Down Trump and the RNC" ahead of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 17, 2016.

Black Lives Matter has been credited with accomplishing a number of concrete objectives, most notably in meeting independently with both Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, to have the movement’s aims included in the Democratic agenda. The urge was largely successful ― a leaked draft of the 2016 Democratic platform cites racial justice as a central issue, delineating in its introduction that “our nation’s long struggle with race is far from over.”

The platform also endorses reforming the criminal justice system, including closing private prisons, training police in conflict de-escalation, reducing crime without relying on unnecessary force, abolishing the death penalty and ending racial profiling.

The newly-minted 2016 Republican platform strikes a different tone. The opening paragraphs of the criminal justice subsection highlights an “unprecedented campaign of harassment against police forces,” but doesn’t acknowledge the systemic injustices plaguing the system. Phrases such as “dangerous criminals,” “soaring murder rate” and “rule of law” make an appearance throughout the remainder of the section.

The disparity between the two platforms on racial justice coverage is reflected in vote preference. According to a FiveThirtyEight aggregation of a series of recent polls on race relations, 62 percent of voters said Clinton would be better equipped to handle the issue than Donald Trump, who polled at 19 percent.

The perception that the movement has been doing more harm than good may be perpetuated by an “all lives matter” counter-movement, which is fueled by the misconception that Black Lives Matter implies that black lives are more important than those of other races and ethnicities. Rather, the movement is highlighting that there is demonstrable evidence that black lives matter less than white lives in the context of the criminal justice system.

With a nominating convention underway supporting the candidacy of a man who has disproportionately alienated black voters, race relations in the United States could become more tumultuous.

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