Daunte Wright was driving in his car through Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, two days ago when police officers pulled him over and later fatally shot him. This isn’t the first time cops have used excessive or fatal force against a Black person. In fact, just 10 miles away from where Wright died, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was on trial for murder after kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes last year.
Floyd’s death sparked a massive movement against police brutality and a sweeping shift in public opinion. And while it’s possible that in the wake of the latest tragedy, public support for reforming policing might increase again, new calls for change face a significant obstacle in public opinion. Gains in support for reform, especially among white Americans, tend to be fleeting, and there’s no consensus on what type of reforms the public wants.
Eleven months after Floyd’s death, support for the Black Lives Matter movement has fallen, while America’s trust in law enforcement has risen. Sixty-nine percent of Americans, according to a USA Today/Ipsos survey from March, now trust local police and law enforcement to promote justice and equal treatment of all races versus 56 percent who felt the same way last June.
Meanwhile, in the almost four years Civiqs has been asking about support for the Black Lives Matter movement, a majority of white people have never supported the movement.1 Support peaked at 43 percent last June, just days after Floyd’s death. Since then, white Americans’ support for the movement has dipped back down to roughly where it was before Floyd’s death and is currently at 37 percent.
Some of the biggest drops in support among white Americans occurred among older people (between the ages of 50 and 64), Republicans and men. Black Americans, meanwhile, have remained steady in their support of the movement. Overall, 85 percent of Black Americans say they support Black Lives Matter, compared to 88 percent last year. And that cuts across age, education and gender.
The reasons for the decline in support among white Americans are myriad. Some experts have chalked it up to a decline in protests and less media coverage of ongoing calls for police reform, making it easier for white people to tune out issues of police brutality. It’s also worth noting, of course, that many protests for Black and civil rights start off unpopular, and people’s perception of the current movement might change over time; white Americans have gradually become more liberal on issues of race, for instance. (Public opinion tends to ebb and flow with tragedy, too, a trend we’ve seen in recent years with the debate over gun control.)
It’s a stark reminder, though, that despite the heavy media coverage the Chauvin trial has received in its first three weeks, its outcome is anything but certain. As we’ve written before, it’s uncommon for police officers to face legal consequences for excessive force. While a majority of Americans (57 percent) think Chauvin should be found guilty, according to a recent Economist/YouGov poll, 56 percent of registered voters told Morning Consult in a separate poll that they’re not following the trial closely. Twenty-one percent said it was because they didn’t think anything will change.
But even if Chauvin is convicted, it’s unlikely policing will fundamentally change in the U.S. Not only is public opinion variable, leading lawmakers to back off reform, law enforcement is often reluctant to admit wrongdoing toward Black people.