August 27, 2014

Within the black community, young and old differ on police searches, discrimination

FT_blacks-views-police-searchesIn the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, some of the media coverage has focused on a generational divide among blacks: the old guard that marched and protested in the 1960s under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s mantra of nonviolent civil disobedience, and today’s young adults who use social media to galvanize their message.

Recent survey data from the Pew Research Center suggest that there is a sharp divide between younger and older blacks on the issue of police searches. Older blacks (those ages 60 and older) are evenly split when it comes to what tactics the police should use in pursuing crime suspects. Some 46% say the police should be allowed to stop and search anyone who fits the general description of a crime suspect, while roughly the same share (50%) say the police should not be able to search people just because they think they look suspicious. 

Young and middle-aged blacks have a much different perspective. Fully 70% of blacks under age 40 and a similar share of those ages 40 to 59 (68%) say the police should not be able to search people without cause, while only about three-in-ten say they should be allowed to search anyone who resembles a crime suspect. Pew Research asked this question of 3,335 adults nationwide earlier this year, before the events in Ferguson, as part of a broader survey on politics and values.

The survey found a similar age pattern among whites — with younger whites more strongly opposed to police searching people just because they look suspicious, while older whites were evenly divided on the issue. Overall, blacks are more likely than whites to be skeptical about police search tactics: 66% of all black adults compared with 53% of all whites say the police should not be able to search people just because they think they look suspicious.

New Pew Research survey data, collected after the Ferguson shooting, finds blacks and whites are sharply divided in their assessments of police performance, both locally and nationwide.

Blacks are also divided about the impact racial discrimination has on black progress today, but the age groups align slightly differently on this measure. Survey respondents in the pre-Ferguson Pew Research poll were asked which of the following statements came closer to their own views: Racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days, or blacks who can’t get ahead in this country are mostly responsible for their own condition. Overall, blacks split fairly evenly on this question, with 43% choosing the first statement and 48% choosing the second one.

FT_blacks-views-racial-discriminationYounger blacks (those ages 18 to 39) are less likely than middle-aged and older blacks to say that racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days. Only about one-third of younger blacks (35%) express this viewpoint, compared with 45% of blacks ages 40 to 59 and 51% of those ages 60 and older.

Younger blacks are more likely than their older counterparts to align themselves with the alternative point of view — that blacks who can’t get ahead in this country are mostly responsible for their own condition. Some 55% of blacks under age 40 say this statement comes closer to their views. By comparison, roughly four-in-ten blacks ages 40 and older say the same.

The Pew Research survey also asked about the progress that’s been made toward providing blacks with equal rights. On this measure there is greater agreement across age groups. When asked whether enough has been done in this country to give blacks equal rights with whites, 79% of all blacks say more change is needed to bring about equality. Younger blacks (those ages 18 to 39) are somewhat more likely than those ages 60 and older to say that we’ve made the changes needed to give blacks equal rights (21% vs. 12%). Still, the vast majority (75% of young blacks and 84% of older blacks) say our country needs to continue making changes.

Topics: Race and Ethnicity, Discrimination and Prejudice, African Americans

  1. Photo of Kim Parker

    is director of social trends research at Pew Research Center.


  1. MJL2 years ago

    I am confused. “Looking suspicious” is not the complement of “fits the description of a crime suspect.” It is quite possible to “look suspicious” and not “fit the description of a crime suspect.” It is also possible to “fit the description of a crime suspect “but not “look suspicious.” And of course it is possible to “look suspicious” and “fit the description of a crime suspect.” It is also possible to be neither. To me, the statements are logically unrelated. What gives?

  2. Lee Pauli3 years ago

    suspicious and fits the description of a suspect are not synonimous. I agree with both.

    No suspicious stopping and yes on fitting description.

  3. Rod Dempsey3 years ago

    I am not saying this despairingly, but positively. Maybe now is the time for educated young black leaders to gravitate back to African areas that hold more promise for them than does America. Having an educated work force seems to be a problem in Africa. Lots of crime and corruption, just like in black areas in the United States, but black Americans can definitely bring more promise in certain areas of Africa. The Liberia experience failed after the Civil War, but that could have been due to a lock of education of blacks at that time.
    America was settled by a group of people who had no, or little real chance for success in Europe. They made this country great. Maybe it is time for blacks to lead Africa out of the 3rd World. Africa, in certain areas, seems to hold great potential for growth. Where are the pioneers who are looking for a better life?

  4. AJ3 years ago

    As a white person neither do I have very much confidence in our police. I live in Maryland and if the police are not being arrested for a variety of crimes from drugs to fraud to coercion, and more. They have been involved in shootings of unarmed white people, vehicular homicide and practically all found to be not at fault. Several cases are stil open after a year of investigations, which I bet is yo bury the case. No information is available because it’s always the standard reply, “We can’t comment on open cases”. The American people are being conned while the police will be the only ones with guns and then even more of our rights will be taken away from us. Trust and honesty and the police force is a perfect oxymoron. Wake up America. The fed is doing it exempting themselves from various laws and the police forces are right along with them and the fifth estate sits back and reports NOTHING.

  5. Packard Day3 years ago

    The results of this latest Pew Research poll are somewhat encouraging. There appears to be a growing consensus that all of us will need to focus on young black anti-social behavior if any progress is to ever occur within the entire black community. According to the Center for Disease Control, the number 1 cause of black deaths among the 15-34 age demographic in 2010 was homicide. Moreover, nearly 90% of these murders were committed by other blacks.

    Like so many other things in life, correctly identifying and then acknowledging that a problem exists is the first step toward fixing the problem.