Americans Expect a Long, Hot Summer of Protests—but Don’t Agree on the Cause

Ninety-six percent of Americans foresee more racially charged unrest nationwide, according to a new poll.
Protesters march in Baltimore. (Photo: Jim Bourg/Reuters)
May 3, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Marches, riots, and curfews: coming soon to a city near you. The protests that erupted in Baltimore after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a spinal injury and died while in police custody, are just the beginning of nationwide unrest in the coming months.

That’s the widely held belief of 96 percent of Americans polled last week by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal. More than half of the 508 adults surveyed believe a similar series of heated protests like the ones that took place in Baltimore and in Ferguson, Missouri, are likely to unfold in the urban center closest to where they live. It was a universal expectation that transcended the race of the respondents, about 21 percent of whom were African American.

But when it comes to identifying the root of racially charged tensions around the country, white and black Americans are deeply divided. Roughly 60 percent of African Americans said the turbulence in Baltimore was caused by “people with long-standing frustrations about police mistreatment of African Americans that have not been addressed.” Just 32 percent of whites shared the same sentiment. A majority of white respondents said the discord in Baltimore was caused by people who used the protests as an excuse to engage in looting and violence.

In American cities that have become flash points for protest in recent years, excessive use of force by police has been a primary—but not the only—factor contributing to a larger sense of disenfranchisement. In Baltimore, Ferguson, and Oakland, California—where Oscar Grant was fatally shot by police at a BART station in 2009—at least 20 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, unemployment rates are higher than the national average, and roughly one in five 18- to 24-year-olds have no high school diploma.

While most Americans believe protests are likely to occur in a big city near them this summer, statistics suggest the location won’t be random: It will likely be a city where poverty, unemployment, and high school dropout rates are disproportionately high.