Black Millennials: Despite police harassment, they're optimistic about change

A new report that compiles a decade of survey and government data offers a nuanced look at the experiences of black Millennials in the United States.

Evan Vucci/AP/File
Neal Blair, of Augusta, Ga., wears a hoodie which reads, 'Black Lives Matter' as he stands on the lawn of the Capitol building during a rally to mark the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, on Capitol Hill, on Oct. 10, in Washington. Black men from around the nation returned to the capital calling for changes in policing and in black communities.

More than half of black Millennials say they or someone they know has been the victim of violence or harassment by law enforcement, according to a newly released survey that pre-dates the high-profile cases of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Freddie Gray that have galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement.

The findings underscore disparities of experiences with the justice system and policing among black, Latino, Asian, and white Millennials. The Mobilization and Change Survey, conducted in 2009 and just released via the Associated Press, tallied 54.4 percent of black Millennials who answered yes to the question "Have you or anyone you know experienced harassment or violence at the hands of the police?" By contrast, nearly one in three whites, one in four Latinos, and a little more than a quarter of Asian-Americans answered yes to the same question.

However, black Millennials were found to be more positive about the role of politics to forge change: 71 percent surveyed said they "believe that they can make a difference through participating in politics," compared to about half of whites surveyed, and 56 percent of Latinos, according to a June 2014 survey.

That's in keeping with 2012 data showing black youth turning out the polls at higher rates than white youth in both the 2008 and 2012 elections.

The same percentage – 71 – of black Millennials also said they believed neighborhood police were "there to protect you." Eighty-five percent of whites, 76 percent of Hispanics and 89 percent of Asians also said police were in their neighborhood to protect them.

The findings were brought together in the "Black Millennials in America" report, put out by the BlackYouth Project at the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago. The leader of the study, Cathy Cohen, chair of the political science department at the University of Chicago and leader of the Black Youth Project told the AP, "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."

But she added that "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."

Data from 2013 shows a decline in the percentage of blacks and Latinos who reported knowing people who carried firearms; paradoxically, there was an uptick in those who said they knew someone who had been injured by gun violence. About a quarter of blacks and 22 percent of Latino Millennials said, "they or someone they knew carried a gun in the last month." The proportion was more than double for white Millennials: 46 percent said they knew of someone who carried a gun, but only 8 percent reported knowing a victim of gun violence. Conversely, 22 percent of black Millennials and 14 percent of Latino Millennials said they knew someone who had been the victim of gun violence.

The publicity of these fundings coincide with the United Nations stepping in to take on the issue of racial inequality in the United States for the first time, under the campaign heading International Decade for People of African Descent, which was established as a political framework in 2013 and kicked off in 2015 to put pressure on governments to shift from policies and policing tactics that perpetuate racial discrimination.

Samaria Rice, the mother of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a Cleveland, Ohio, boy who was shot and killed by police about a year ago, called on the diplomatic body to take action at a panel on systemic racism held at U.N. headquarters in New York City on Tuesday. "I’m hoping that some of these countries [in the U.N.] are willing help us out with this problem,” Ms. Rice said.

"I want the world to know that letting a child go outside to play never to come home is a parent’s worst nightmare."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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