He may have set Iran on the path to a nuclear weapon and the U.S. health insurance industry on a path to self-destruction, but at least when Obama leaves office he’ll be able to point to his record of … poisoned race relations.
Really, though, how much of this has anything to do with Obama?
As recently as 2013, year five of Hopenchange, views of race relations were as good among both whites and blacks as they were in the first few years after 9/11. Since then, the bottom’s fallen out. How come? The obvious answer would seem to be the correct one: The drumbeat of high-profile killings of black men by white cops (or “white Hispanic” neighborhood watchmen) has polarized the races. Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012 but the verdict on George Zimmerman came down in the summer of 2013, not coincidentally right around the last time views of race relations were solid in Gallup’s polling. Since then there have been new incidents and resulting media sensations every nine to 12 months. Eric Garner died during an NYPD arrest in July 2014; Michael Brown was shot after trying to grab Darren Wilson’s gun the following month. Eight months after that, Walter Scott was shot while running away from a cop in South Carolina. Freddie Gray’s apparent “rough ride” in the back of a Baltimore police wagon came just eight days later. In between there have been riots in Ferguson and Baltimore and countless protests elsewhere. The surprise here isn’t that views of race relations would deteriorate amid all that, the surprise is that Gallup found Americans’ optimism that race relations will get better hasn’t deteriorated. When asked if they think race relations will always be a problem or will eventually be “solved,” 58 percent said the latter — exactly the same percentage as said so two years ago. I wonder what explains that. Is it a reaction to the overall progress in race relations that have been made over the past 50 years, i.e. the hope/expectation that these shootings will become more aberrant over time, or something else?
Before you answer, have a look at the key data from another Gallup poll released this week:
In spite of all the incidents I named above, 52 percent of blacks believe the police treat racial minorities fairly or very fairly. Not only that, but when asked whether they’d like to see more cops or fewer cops in their neighborhood, 38 percent of blacks say more versus just 10 percent who say less. (51 percent want to see no change.) Even more interesting, blacks who say that cops tend to treat racial minorities unfairly are more likely to want to see more cops in their neighborhood (44 percent) than blacks who think minorities are by and large treated fairly by the police (33 percent). That doesn’t make sense at first blush; if you think the cops are biased against you, you should want less of them around. Logically, though, it’s probably blacks who live in high-crime areas who are more likely to perceive unfair treatment by cops: A cop on the beat in a neighborhood which he knows contains more criminals will probably be more suspicious of the people around him, including the innocent ones, than a cop who works in a neighborhood with a lower crime rate. That means more confrontations between cops and innocents, which means higher ratings of unfairness. At the same time, though, innocent residents of the neighborhood also know there are lots of criminals around, which leads them to want more cops notwithstanding the likelihood of bias. It’s a choice between two evils, unfairness by the state and victimization by gangsters. Given that choice, most will choose the former over the latter.
Here’s Ben Carson on race relations last night at the debate.