WASHINGTON – Americans overwhelmingly want clear standards on when police officers may use force and consequences for officers who do so excessively, according to a new poll that finds nearly all Americans favor at least some level of change to the nation’s criminal justice system.
The new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also finds there is strong support for penalizing officers who engage in racially biased policing. Americans are more likely now than five years ago to say that police violence against the public is a very serious problem and that officers who cause injury or death on the job are treated too leniently.
“For me, as a Black person, I’m like, this has been happening," said Kevin Richardson, 38, of Charlotte, North Carolina. "We should’ve been knowing it, we should’ve been seeing this and so now what’s happened is, I’ll be honest, white people are seeing it and saying, ‘This is wrong.'”
The survey of American adults took place after weeks of mass demonstrations against police violence and calls from some politicians and activists to “defund” departments in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in custody after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes.
Americans are largely united behind the idea that action is required: 29% think the criminal justice system needs “a complete overhaul,” 40% say it needs “major changes” and 25% say it needs “minor changes.” Just 5% believe no changes are necessary.
Megan Pecknold, 33, of Spokane, Washington, said the protests have forced her to think about these issues in a way she had the luxury, as a white person, of previously ignoring.
“I had never really given much thought to police use of force. I’m white. I’ve never had a bad encounter with a police officer,” she said. “The last few months have brought to light more of this for me, and now I am educating myself.”
Nearly 6 in 10 Black Americans think the criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul, compared with about a quarter of white Americans who said the same. About 4 in 10 white Americans say major changes are needed; 3 in 10 prefer minor changes.