This is the highest figure Gallup has recorded on this question since 1992, when the nation was responding to the Rodney King verdict that originally acquitted four police officers on charges of the use of excessive force and assault with a deadly weapon, despite a widely circulated videotape of police officers using excessive force and assaulting Mr. King with deadly weapons.
Interestingly, this December 2014 poll spike, from 1% in November 2014, is the result of another court verdict and videotape. This one involves the lack of indictment of police officer Daniel Pantaleo for his actions in the death of Eric Garner and a widely circulated videotape of Officer Panteleo using a controversial hold on Mr. Garner that lead to his death.
Also interesting is that while the 1992 spike happened at the beginning of the administration of Bill Clinton, who some called ‘the first Black president’, this recent spike is occurring during the middle of the second term of Barack Obama, the actual Black president. One would think such spikes would have occurred during the administrations of Clinton’s and Obama’s successors. George H.W. Bush after all was widely accused to exploiting racism to get elected because of the Willie Horton ads by the NAACP, and George W. Bush was widely accused of being racist during his election by the NAACP for not signing into law hate-crime legislation during his tenure as Texas governor. Yet American concern about race relations remained low during both Bush administrations.
There are interesting differences as well. While President Clinton had as little to do with the beating of Rodney King as President Obama did with the killing of Eric Garner, Obama is not as divorced from responsibility of the resulting uptick in perception of racial tension.
President Obama’s administration has been marked by an agenda that seemed deliberately designed to increase racial tensions almost exactly from the start. One of the first official actions of the Obama administration was to refuse to prosecute the New Black Panther members who stood at a Philadelphia polling station with billy clubs to attempt to intimidate voters into voting for Barack Obama. Given this administrations’ accusation of voter intimidation against those who would require voters show a valid ID, Obama’s refusal to charge the weapon-wielding Panthers with voter intimidation struck many — especially non-Blacks — as discriminatory.
This perception of a pro-Black Obama Department of Justice was bolstered by the book Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department by former DOJ attorney J. Christian Adams which accused Eric Holder of refusing to prosecute civil rights cases in which the violators of civil rights were African American. Our interview with Adams can be found by clicking here.
President Obama further exacerbated racial tensions by assuming the Cambridge police officer for ‘behaving stupidly’ in temporarily arresting Professor Henry Louis Gates, after Gates’ breaking into what turned out to be his own home. Obama’s comment, that “there’s a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately” may have been true, but given that the police were only responding to a neighbor’s call, and that Gates likely would not have been arrested at all if Gates did not insult one of the officer’s mother, insulting the police was unnecessarily provocative.
Later, when some reacted (overreacted?) angrily to Obama’s comment following the Trayvon Martin case that ‘if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,’ the perception that there were “Two Americas” with one being Blacks as a special protected class was palpable, and racial resentment was an undeniable problem.
Although it did not cause the Gallup poll spike the Gardner case did, the Martin case may be remembered as more significant catalyst for racial tensions during the Obama administration. To some, Martin was an unarmed and innocent teenager, who was accosted and eventually shot by an overzealous and racist neighborhood watchman. To these, Martin became a symbol of Black persecution. To others, Martin was a typical Black thug, casing homes while on his way somewhere to get high, who thought nothing of bashing a stranger’s head against cement for following him. To these, Martin became a symbol of Black prosecution.
A similar pattern followed after the Michael Brown shooting. Despite the unlikelihood that someone would charge a gun that was firing at him, especially if only to avoid being arrested on a minor robbery charge; and the conflicting testimony of witnesses – some of whom testified that Brown had his hands up in surrender, while one bipolar witness with a history of racism was allowed to testify to the grand jury that Brown was charging at the office “like a football player” even though the prosecutor knew beforehand that she was “clearly not telling the truth” and not even present at the time of the shooting — the case was not deemed worthy of trial
The rising anger by the Black community and against the Black community also became especially evident on the Internet during this period. Progressive sites became filled with exaggerated stories of police brutality against Blacks (so that their audience could complain against police racism) while Conservative sites decided it was conservative to post almost daily examples of Black ‘thuggery’ (so that their commentators could ‘wish they would go back to Africa with the rest of the gorillas’). These websites got lots of hits, but it is easy to see how they helped inflame racial tension as well.
Obama’s most visible response to the recent racial tensions has been to make Al Sharpton his unofficial Secretary of Race Relations. Poor choice. Sharpton’s entire career – from the Brawley hoax (which led to the suicide of an innocent cop), to the Freddie Fashion Mart protest (which led to the death of eight), and to the Crown Heights riots (which led to the stabbing death of a rabbinical student) - has shown “Rev. Al” to be less a Man of God than an Angel of Death. Sharpton did not earn his pay from bringing the races together – as Obama surely recognizes. That Obama has reportedly met with Sharpton 84 times and has given him such status calls into question who sincerely Obama wishes to bring the races together as well.
As an African American, I have known what it is like to be a victim of racism. I have had Whites call me “n****r,” had employers deny me jobs because of my skin color, and have been stopped by police and security guards for ‘looking suspicious.’ I once even had a landlord try to evict me from an apartment because a neighbor complained about a Black person living in the neighborhood.
Yet I do not complain about my racial experiences because I always remembered my father telling me that when he was growing up he was not allowed to eat at the Woolworth’s where he was employed — not where he would be visible to the White only customers, at least — and how he and most other Blacks had to step off the sidewalk when a White man was coming. Or of my grandfather’s experiences, which involved facing burning crosses, lynchings, and knowing men and women who were born into slavery.
My assumption based on my experience then, is that the country was largely coming together. After all, our president was Black. And the teens I see making far too much noise at the local library where I used to go to read free stuff all seem to think as little about race than they do about me having enough peace and quiet to concentrate.
Yet only days ago two minority police officers who were assigned to protect minorities from other minorities in a largely minority community were assassinated by a deranged Black gunman, inspired perhaps by chants of “What do we want? Dead cops!” from Garner protestors and a mayor telling audiences how he had to warn his biracial son to fear the police.