Most Oregonians support many police reforms
Despite majority support for the racial justice movement sweeping the country, Oregonians are divided over some of the proposals to address systemic racism being considered by the Oregon Legislature and Portland City Council, according to a survey released last week.
The death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in the custody of the Minneapolis police, has sparked protests and calls for criminal justice reform. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they support the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. More than 60% believe the recent deaths of Black people during encounters with police are signs of larger problems.
Oregonians are taking the issue personally. According to the survey, 55% say they have talked with family or friends about racial injustice. Another 28% have posted on social media about it. The conversations have not always been easy, with 17% saying they have unfriended someone on social media because of their views, and another 8% saying they have ended a relationship or friendship with someone for the same reason.
"The fact that one out of five Oregonians have changed a relationship because of this, even on social media, speaks to the serious tension that exists," said John Horvick, political director of the Portland-based DHM Research Firm, which conducted the survey for the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center.
According to the survey, most Oregonians support many of the police reforms being considered by the Legislature and council. For example, a majority support: requiring police officers to intervene and stop excessive use of force by other officers; requiring the release of officer disciplinary records; and banning the use of chokeholds, which the Legislature is considering.
"Requiring officers to intervene when deadly force is used is a great idea. It should not have to be a requirement. It should be common sense. But watching the George Floyd video, you can see by-standers asking the officers standing by to intervene," said Jim Kline, who lives in Northeast Portland and took the survey.
And nearly 60% support cutting some funds from police departments and shifting it to social services, which the Portland council has done. It recently abolished four tactical units, including the controversial Gun Violence Reduction Tea, and transferred some of the money to the Portland Rapid Team Response program that pairs paramedics with mental health professionals to respond to 911 calls that don't require the police.
But only 37% support eliminating police departments entirely and replacing them with social service agencies. One reason complete defunding is opposed may be because a majority of Oregonians — 55% — approve of the job performance of their local police departments.
"The fact that most people view their local police more positive should not be a surprise. People are more familiar with their local police. Consequently, it is easier to see other departments a bad and local police as good," Kline said.
Another reason may be that a nearly half believe crime is increasing in their communities, including 50% in the Portland metro area.
"Property theft and crime in general have significantly increased during the past 15 years. When we first arrived here from the Midwest, our city streets were free of trash, and there was sufficient police presence within Portland proper. Ever since the legalization of marijuana, the increase in social services for the homeless, the constant presence of tents and the accompanying trash heaps everywhere, the cities in this state are overrun with crime," said Helen, who took the survey and asked that her last name not be used.
Although most support the protests, they are realistic about them, with 50% saying they have been both peaceful and violent. When it comes to who is to blame for the violence, only 15% blame the police; 24% blame the protesters; 34% say other people acting irresponsibly; and 21% say multiple groups equally.
"Black Lives Matter and the protests were absolutely necessary to curb past and future excesses by police agencies, but they have become a mishmash of conflicting voices, goals and means to move forward," said Don Williams of West Linn, who took the survey.
Respondents also make a distinction between the Black Lives Matter movement and "antifa," the term for loose-knit anti-fascist groups of activists that some have blamed for the violence at the protests. Sixty-six percent support Black Lives Matter and only 22% support antifa.
White nationalism is supported by just 6% of respondents.
Opinions on the issues are split largely along the increasingly polarized demographic lines that have emerged on practically every issue in recent years. For example, those most likely to support the protests in response to Floyd's death are Democrats (86%), 18- to 19-year-olds (82%) and those who live in the Portland metro area, the most liberal part of the state (76%).
In contrast, those least likely to support the protests are Republicans (57%), 45- to 64-year-olds (40%), and respondents outside of metro area and the Willamette Valley (40%).
The online survey of 603 Oregonians, ages 18 and older, was conducted between July 14 and 22. Respondents were contacted by using professionally maintained online panels. The purpose was to assess values and beliefs related to police, protests, and racial injustice. The margin of error ranges from plus or minus two to four percentage points, depending on the questions.
Despite the recent attention on racial injustice issues, the survey found Oregonians consider the COVID-19 pandemic to be a more important issue. Almost two-thirds also are worried that the recent protests may lead to an increase in coronavirus cases.
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