A man pays his respects at the scene of a mass shooting at Tops Friendly Market on May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, New York.
A man pays his respects at the scene of a mass shooting at Tops Friendly Market on May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, New York. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Safety concerns were top of mind for many Black Americans well before a White gunman killed 10 people – all of them Black – in a mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, on May 14.

A chart showing that about a third of Black U.S. adults worry regularly about being threatened or attacked because of their race or ethnicity, and some have changed their daily routines due to these concerns

In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in mid-April, around a third of Black adults (32%) said they worried every day or almost every day that they might be threatened or attacked because of their race or ethnicity. Around one-in-five Asian Americans (21%) said the same, as did 14% of Hispanic adults and 4% of White adults.

In the same survey, around three-in-ten Black adults who said being threatened or attacked was ever a concern (28%) said they had made changes to their daily schedule or routine in the past year due to those fears. Around a third of Asian adults (36%) and around one-in-five Hispanic adults (22%) said they had taken such precautions, as did 12% of White adults.

How we did this

In the aftermath of a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, this Pew Research Center analysis examines safety concerns among Black Americans. It is based primarily on four recent Center surveys: one conducted from April 25 to May 1, 2022, among 5,074 adults; one conducted from April 11 to 17, 2022, among 10,156 adults; one conducted from Oct. 18 to 24, 2021, among 9,676 adults; and one conducted from Oct. 4 to 17, 2021, among 3,912 adults.

Everyone who took part in these surveys is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Links to all questions used in these surveys, as well as their methodologies, are included in the text of this analysis.

Black Americans are disproportionately likely to be victims of hate crimes, according to data collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. More than a third (35%) of the 8,263 criminal incidents identified in the FBI’s hate crimes report for 2020 involved anti-Black or African American bias, even though Black people account for about 12% of the U.S. population. The FBI’s statistics are widely considered to be an undercount because many hate crimes are not reported to police and many police departments do not submit complete data to the FBI for national reporting purposes.

Widespread concern among Black Americans about gun violence, violent crime

While Black Americans stand out for their concern about being threatened or attacked because of their race or ethnicity, they are also more likely than Americans of other racial or ethnic backgrounds to be concerned about broader issues of gun violence and violent crime.

In a Center survey conducted in late April and early May, nearly eight-in-ten Black adults (78%) said gun violence is a very big problem in the United States today – far higher than the share of Hispanic (57%) and White adults (42%) who said the same. Similarly, 77% of Black adults said violent crime is a very big problem in the country today, compared with 54% of Hispanic adults and half of White adults. (While the survey included adults of all major racial and ethnic backgrounds, there were not enough Asian adults in the sample to provide reliable estimates of their views of gun violence and violent crime.)

A line graph showing that Black adults are consistently more likely than Hispanic and White adults to see gun violence and violent crime as major national problems

In surveys conducted since late 2018, Black adults have consistently been more likely than Hispanic and White adults to see both gun violence and violent crime as very big national problems.

The late April and early May survey asked U.S. adults whether they see each of 12 issues – ranging from climate change to the coronavirus outbreak – as national problems. While inflation topped the list of concerns among U.S. adults overall, gun violence and violent crime were among the main concerns for Black adults. Majorities of Black adults also said racism (73%), inflation (68%) and the affordability of health care (63%) were very big national problems.

A bar chart showing that about eight-in-ten Black Americans see gun violence and violent crime as very big national problems

Other recent surveys by the Center have documented concern about local violence and crime among Black Americans.

An October 2021 survey of Black adults asked respondents in an open-ended format to identify the most important issue facing the community where they live. The most common issue, volunteered by 17% of Black adults, was violence or crime, including references to specific problems such as shootings, drug activity or theft.

In a separate survey, also conducted in October 2021, around four-in-ten Black adults (42%) said crime was a major problem in their local community, compared with smaller shares of Hispanic (30%), Asian (24%) and White adults (17%).

The recent survey findings come as the nation confronts an increase in murders and other forms of violent crime. The national murder rate rose 30% between 2019 and 2020 – the largest year-over-year increase since at least 1905.

Gun-related murders, in particular, have been on the rise. Around eight-in-ten (79%) of the murders that took place in 2020 involved a firearm, the highest such percentage since at least 1968. The national gun murder rate is at its highest point since the mid-1990s.

Black Americans have long been disproportionately affected by gun murders, and that has increasingly been the case in recent years, according to a study published this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The gun murder rate among Black Americans rose nearly 40% between 2019 and 2020, far outpacing the percentage increase among people in other racial and ethnic groups. Black Americans were about 12 times as likely as White Americans to be the victim of a gun murder in 2020, the study found.

John Gramlich  is a senior writer/editor at Pew Research Center.