As lawmakers debate reforming the qualified immunity doctrine that greatly protects police officers from lawsuits, a new poll finds that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the criminal justice system is too lenient for officers who cause injury or death.
Surveying between June 11 and June 15, the poll finds that 84% of Black people believe police officers aren’t punished severely enough while a 62% majority of white people agree.
These numbers are up significantly from 2015, where 41% of all Americans believed officers are given lenient treatment.
Lawmakers in Congress are weighing police reform proposals following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The Justice in Policing Act from House Democrats reforms the qualified immunity doctrine, removing protections for police that makes it incredibly difficult for victims to seek restitution.
The Trump administration, which has spent time defending the United States policing system, has called the removal of protections as a “nonstarter,” and a bill from Senate Republicans does not address the doctrine.
The AP-NORC poll also found that 61% of Americans believe the police are more likely to use deadly force against a Black person, and that 79% of people believe police violence is a moderately to extremely serious issue.
Jennifer Benz, the deputy director of the AP-NORC Centers, said, “The data show noteworthy changes of a magnitude we don’t see very often, especially on long-standing cultural or social issues…While this poll was certainly conducted at a moment of tremendous attention on racism in our society, we have empirical signals from other data to suggest that these changes are not purely a reaction to the current events.”
Protests against police violence and systemic racism continue in the wake of Floyd’s death, which occurred on May 25. The Trump administration has refused to acknowledge systemic racism exists in the U.S., with press secretary Kayleigh McEnany saying, “This president knows fundamentally that most police officers in this country are good.” A 2019 study found that Black men are two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by police than white men. “Use of police force” is the sixth-leading cause of death from young Black men.
The protests come amid the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, which also disproportionately affects Black people and other minorities. In a CDC analysis of confirmed cases in the U.S., it found 33% of patients were Hispanic, 22% were Black and 1.3% were American Indian and Alaska Native, higher than population figures of 18%, 13% and 0.7%, respectively