Black New Yorkers Want Increased Policing Despite Eric Garner’s Death?

How do we explain these poll results? Political education, internalized racism, age and socioeconomic status can affect African Americans’ attitudes toward law enforcement. 

A demonstration in New York City on July 19, 2014, against the death of Eric Garner in police custody on Staten Island two days earlier.  Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Despite the looming specter of police brutality, which casts shadows over street corners, neighborhoods and homes across black America, 56 percent of black voters in New York City support “broken windows” policing tactics, compared with 61 percent of the city’s white voters, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

The controversial policing style frames community disorder and signs of neglect—such as broken windows, littering and loitering—as indicators of encroaching crime that will lead to more dangerous communities and must be addressed with the full force of the law.

In theory, broken-windows policing, and its variants stop-and-frisk, zero-tolerance and quality-of-life policing, are tactics used by officers who are hyperinvested in keeping communities safe, clean and crime-free. In practice, however, they provide opportunities for racial profiling and resulting antagonistic and abusive encounters between law enforcement and people of color.

This has been evidenced recently by the extrajudicial killing of 43-year-old Staten Island man Eric Garner, a father of six who died after being placed in an illegal choke hold by New York City police Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Garner’s crime? Allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. He can be heard in the heart-wrenching minutes before his death telling officers that their continued harassment of him “ends today.” Moments later, the asthmatic man painfully wheezes his last words: “I can’t breathe.”

Interestingly, when participants in the Quinnipiac poll were asked whether police officers should “actively issue summonses or make arrests for so-called quality of life offenses,” including selling small amounts of marijuana or making loud noise, 60 percent of black voters said yes, a negligible difference from the 59 percent of white voters who said the same.

“It’s different where you live from what you see in the media,” said Quinnipiac University Poll Assistant Director Maurice Carroll. “Overall, black New Yorkers are negative about cops citywide. White voters are positive. But looking at cops in their own neighborhood, the support turns positive among black voters and heavily positive among whites.

 “Does it improve the quality of life in your neighborhood when police arrest someone for a low-level offense, or does it increase neighborhood tensions? New Yorkers decide for quality of life,” Carroll added.

In addition, 45 percent of blacks polled believed that officers should use “whatever amount of force is necessary” to make an arrest if a suspect resists, but an overwhelming 90 percent believe that there was no excuse for Pantaleo to place Garner in an illegal choke hold (compared with 52 percent of white voters). And 83 percent of black voters (compared with 50 percent of white voters) believe that Pantaleo should face criminal charges.

These statistics seem to reveal a troubling disconnection between the percentage of blacks who want increased policing in their neighborhoods and the percentage who truly understand what that increased policing entails.

There is a reason that the white voters polled are more likely to consider police officers friends who seldom use excessive force. There is a reason that they don’t fear becoming victims of police brutality.