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The Knowledge Gap

By Big Margin, Gun Violence Tops Police Misconduct as ‘Extremely Serious Problem’ Among People of Color

In a new poll, black and Hispanic voters said they strongly supported tougher restrictions and better enforcement of gun laws.

Gun violence is seen as a serious problem by a greater percentage of people of color than either police misconduct or mass incarceration, a new survey by Benenson Strategy Group of 1,200 registered African-American and Hispanic voters found.  

Eighty percent of African-American respondents characterized gun violence as an “extremely serious problem,” a higher number than said the same of the incarceration rate (69 percent) or police misconduct (50 percent). More than half of Hispanic respondents said gun violence was extremely serious.

The survey was conducted by Benenson, a consultancy, as part of a project called Engaging Communities in Reducing Gun Violence. The project is a collaboration between three nonprofit research organizations: the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the Joyce Foundation, and the Urban Institute. (The Joyce Foundation is a seed funder to The Trace.)

In response to one question, black and Hispanic voters indicated that they feel that the rest of the U.S. is ignoring the plague of violence that has engulfed their neighborhoods.

Fifty-seven percent of black respondents said they “agree” that most people in the U.S. “don’t care about the gun violence that is affecting communities of color.” An even higher number of African Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 — 64 percent — agreed with the statement.

Of the estimated 30 Americans shot and killed with guns every day, roughly 50 percent are black men — a group that comprises just 6 percent of the population.

The survey found that among blacks and Hispanics, gun violence, the incarceration rate, and police misconduct are often viewed as intertwined issues. Most respondents said the best way to reduce gun violence is to keep guns out of the wrong hands — and indicated that they would support a range of measures intended to do so, including expanded background checks and stepped-up penalties for gun traffickers.

A large majority, roughly three-quarters, also said if a gun is in a home, they believe it will most likely be used to protect members of the family.  

Most respondents said that they “frequently worry about interactions between the police and young men of color.” Despite these fears, a large majority said they believe that police make their communities safer. Just 23 percent of African Americans, and 15 percent of Hispanics, said they think that most police officers in America discriminate on the basis of race.

“When you ask those most impacted by gun violence, they reject many of the false choices and absolutes in today’s national debate,” Thomas Abt, a senior research fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, tells The Trace. “Perhaps not surprisingly, they prefer balanced approaches and pragmatic problem solving to ideological purity. We need these voices to be heard by politicians, policymakers, media, and advocates alike.”

Perhaps the most striking takeaway from the survey is the closeness of all three major issues — gun violence, incarceration and police misconduct — in the African-American respondents’ daily lives. Three-quarters said they personally know someone who has been sent to jail. More than half said that they, or someone they know, has had a negative interaction with a law enforcement officer. And 42 percent said that they or someone they know has been affected by gun violence.

[Photo:Scott Olson/Getty Images]