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Majority Of Black Millennials Know A Victim Of Police Violence: Report

By Kate Shepherd in News on Nov 4, 2015 6:13PM

A child sits on a man's shoulders outside Chicago Police Headquarters at the beginning of a protest of the International Association of Police Chief's conference in October. (photo by Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist)

The Black Lives Matter movement has changed the way many Americans discuss police violence, especially in the wake of high-profile deaths like Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and Eric Garner. But even before the riots started in Ferguson, Missouri, over half of African-American millennials indicated they, or someone they knew, has been victimized by violence or harassment from law enforcement, according to a new study.

Black, Latino, Asian and white Millennials had very different attitudes on policing, guns and the legal system in the United States long before police violence was in the headlines almost daily. The data comes from "Black Millennials in America," a report issued by the Black Youth Project at the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago:

In the 2009 Mobilization and Change Survey, 54.4 percent of black millennials answered yes to the question "Have you or anyone you know experienced harassment or violence at the hands of the police?" Almost one-third of whites, 1 in 4 Latinos and 28 percent of Asian-Americans surveyed said yes to the same question.

It doesn't necessarily mean that black millennials don't trust the police. In the same survey, 71 percent of blacks said that they believe law enforcement in their neighborhood were "there to protect you." A clear majority of other ethnicities agreed that police are in their neighborhoods to protect them: 85 percent of whites, 76 percent of Hispanics and 89 percent of Asians.

"We know that young blacks are more likely to be harassed by the police. We know that they are more likely to mistrust their encounters with the police," Cathy Cohen, chair of the political science department at the University of Chicago and leader of the Black Youth Project, told the Associated Press. "But we also know from actually collecting data that a majority of them believe that police in their neighborhood are actually there to protect them, so I think it provides us with more complexity."

Some surprising information comes out of the data. Not many millennials trust the justice system, regardless of race: Only 38 percent of respondents agreed that "the American legal system treats all groups fairly" in the 2014 Black Youth Project survey.

Despite being more likely to be harassed by police, black millennials are more optimistic about making a difference through political participation than their counterparts: 71 percent said they believe they could. Only 52 percent of whites and 56 percent of Latinos feel the same way, according to their June 2014 survey.