Poll: Police harassment familiar to young blacks, Hispanics

2016-08-05 07:19
Police guard the emergency room entrance of Our Lady Of The Lake Medical Centre in Baton Rouge, where a wounded officers were taken. (File, Gerald Herbert, AP)

Police guard the emergency room entrance of Our Lady Of The Lake Medical Centre in Baton Rouge, where a wounded officers were taken. (File, Gerald Herbert, AP)

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Detroit — Crystal Webb cringes whenever a patrol car appears in her rear-view mirror. She also never wants to see the inside of a police station again.

Her personal experience with police, plus recent fatal shootings of unarmed black men by white officers, has led the Apple Valley, California, mother of two to ask: Who are the good guys and who are bad?

"You are the people I'm supposed to go to when I'm in trouble," Webb says of police.

Two-thirds of young African-Americans and four in 10 Hispanics say that they or someone they know has experienced violence or harassment at the hands of the police, according to a new GenForward poll. That includes about two in 10 in each group who say that was a personal experience, including about three in 10 black men who say the same.

GenForward is a survey of adults age 18 to 30 by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research. The first-of-its-kind poll pays special attention to the voices of young adults of colour, highlighting how race and ethnicity shape the opinions of a new generation.

Those poll results come after the killing of several young black men by police around the country. Two of the more recent killings were the July 5 shooting death of Alton Sterling during a struggle with officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the fatal shooting of Philando Castile the following day by an officer in a suburb of St Paul, Minnesota.

Those shootings were followed by the July 7 killing of five officers in Dallas by a black gunman during a protest against police shootings of black suspects. Two police officers and one sheriff's deputy were shot and killed by a black gunman during a July 17 ambush in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

About six in 10 young adults consider the killings of black people by the police and violence against the police as extremely or very serious problems, according to the poll. But young African-Americans and Hispanics see killings by police as more serious problems and young whites see violence against the police as more serious.

Most, especially blacks and Hispanics, say not-guilty verdicts for three Baltimore police officers charged in the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray give them less confidence in the police.

Gray, 25, was fatally injured while handcuffed and shackled in the back of the van.

Among young whites and Asians in the new poll, just three in 10 say they or someone they know has experienced police harassment, and just one in 10 white and one in 20 Asians say that was a personal experience.

Webb, who is black, says she was arrested last November by two officers - one white, the other black.

"They threw me in the police car and when I gave them my story, the other officer who was white gave me a look," she said. "While the officer of colour was asking questions and being nice, the other officer got in the car and started yelling at me. He told me to just shut up."

The charges eventually were dropped by a judge, she said.

The new poll shows young people, including young blacks and Hispanics, do want a police presence in their communities. In fact, most support adding more police or armed security guards in public places like schools, movie theatres and malls.

Billy Busby, 24, of Atlanta, says he was working a security job and helping police in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with crowd and traffic control during the popular Black Bike Beach in May when he was approached by a white officer.

"The officer came up to me and said, 'What are you doing here?' I said, 'I'm sorry, I'm doing my job.' She said, 'You need to move or I'm going to arrest you,'" Busby said.

Busby said his supervisor showed up, vouched for him and defused the situation.

"I think she felt intimidated because I was a black male and doing traffic," Busby said.

Some officers in southern Mississippi target Hispanics, thinking they're in the US illegally, said Patience Buxton, 28, who owns a company in Forest, Mississippi, that shuttles people back and forth to various appointments.

Buxton is biracial and identifies as white, and says many of her customers are Hispanic.

"I know they are looking at me," Buxton said of officers. "I get nervous myself. I know I've done nothing wrong. They've called me a coyote, asked me if I'm transporting illegals. They abuse their authority completely."

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