Is It Racist? Police Protests & Racial Injustice

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, people worldwide are protesting police brutality. We asked Oregonians what they think of the police and racial injustice.

People with signs protest the police

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year old Black man was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, reigniting a nationwide call-to-action about ending police brutality and racial inequality. Globally, many have come out in support of Black Lives Matter, demanding that our police forces be reformed, defunded, or abolished completely in response. American leaders in several states have implemented policy changes to meet the demands of the ongoing protests. And here in Oregon, more than half the population (55 percent) have talked to friends and family about social justice.

Between July 14 and July 22, we surveyed 603 Oregonians about the police protests and racial injustice. Our panel was proportional to the state’s population, and we used demographic quotas to ensure a representative sample. 

How Do Oregonians Feel About Police?

Oregonians approve of their local police force more than they do police outside of Oregon. More than half of respondents think their local police are doing a good job, while only 40 percent approve of police on a broader scale. It’s not uncommon for people to give better ratings to individuals and organizations closer to home than elsewhere.

We found that there were dramatically wide differences in approval when we looked at age and political affiliation. Older Oregonians (45–64) and Republicans were significantly more likely to approve of police in the United States as compared to Democrats and respondents under 30 who were far less supportive. Non-affiliated voters fell somewhere in the middle of older Oregonians and Democrats, but no other group neared the 80 percent approval rating that Republicans gave police in the United States in general. 

On the other hand, when asked about why they disapproved of the police, Oregonians cited excessive violence, racism, and abuse of power. Those who approve of police in the United States say it’s mainly because policing is a tough job, and there are only a few bad cops because most police officers are well trained and professional.

Racially Unjust Policing Practices

More than half of respondents believe that police treat white people better than Black people. They think that police killing Black people is a sign of a broader, systemic problem. Only 30 percent of Oregonians think that police treat white people and Black people equally, often believing that incidents like the killings like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are isolated events.

A significant majority of respondents in the Portland Metro area think that these killings are a sign of a broader problem; respondents in the Willamette Valley and the rest of the state aren’t as convinced.

When it comes to age and political affiliation, respondents under the age of 30 and over the age of 65, as well as Democrats, agreed that this is a bigger, systemic problem that needs to be addressed. Republicans and respondents ages 45–64 disagree. We think this age phenomenon may be a result of respondents 65+ seeing similarities between today’s protests against racial inequality and those during the Civil Rights Movement.

Reform or Defund the Police? Which Has More Support?

Most Oregonians are urging state leaders to address the intersection between race and policing by passing important mandates that focus on accountability. Respondents were split on whether the police should be reformed or funds should be reallocated for a different public safety approach. Seventy percent of Oregonians believe that the way that police do their job needs to be changed. More than half of those respondents believe that police have a problem with race but that the existing system can be fixed with reform; the remaining percentage said that reform hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work now.

Line graph depicting Oregonian views towards police reform in the wake of racial injustice protests

Just under half of Democrats and Oregonians under 45 believe that we must defund the police and move those funds towards a reinvention of public safety measures. About half of respondents over the age of 45 said that reforming our current system will fix the race problem, while half of Republicans who answered said that police departments don’t need reform.

The strongest support for police reform came from Democrats, college graduates, and young Oregonians. The strongest opposition to police reform came from Republicans, high school-only graduates, and those older than 65. 

Changes Suggested in Favor of Police Reform

There’s overwhelming support for reform that ensures police accountability. Examples include:

  • Requiring police to intervene when excessive force is used (91 percent)
  • Requiring officers to report each time they use force against a civilian (81 percent)
  • Requiring states to publicly release disciplinary records for officers (77 percent)
  • Banning the use of chokeholds (74 percent)
  • Banning no-knock warrants (66 percent)

How Do Our Results Measure Up?

In early June, YouGov Poll conducted a national survey asking participants which statement was closest to how they feel about police reform. Their results found that most people think that the problem can be fixed by reforming the current system. However, our panel’s results suggest that Oregonians are closer to an equal split between defunding the police (31 percent) and reforming the existing system (39 percent).

Pie chart depicting the amount of the police budget that Oregonians think should be allocated to public services to combat racial injustice

Funding Social Services and Public Safety Improvements

When we asked respondents how much funding should be moved from the police budget to social services, on average, Oregonians thought 15–22 percent is a good amount. Both Democrats and non-affiliated voters fell close to that range, while Republicans suggested lower. Seventy-three percent of Republican respondents opposed reallocating any funds to social services whatsoever.

Other Forms of Justice to Consider

There are two possible alternatives to our current criminal justice system: restorative and transformative justice. We asked our panel what they thought about each, and 60 percent of respondents were unfamiliar with both concepts. After we provided a definition of each approach, a majority of Oregonians supported using the principles to reshape our criminal justice system. Democrats and non-affiliated voters were both more likely to support these methods, while Republicans largely disapproved of the alternatives.

Those who disapproved of policing in the United States supported restorative and transformative justice more than those who approved of policing in the country. 

Is Change Possible?

While we found a significant and unsurprising split in partisanship across most of the suggested changes, a majority or respondents seemed to support changes in policing and improvements to public safety.