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Oregon Values & Beliefs Center survey shows lingering political divide when it comes to social and racial justice

PMG FILE PHOTO - Volunteers built large Pride and Black Lives Matter flags in sight of Newberg High School to protest the school board's ban on political symbols.A majority of Oregonians polled say they support the Black Lives Matter movement, but residents are split on whether society is in a better place because of it.

Results of an Oregon Values & Beliefs Center survey conducted in February show about six in 10 Oregon residents polled (59%) support the Black Lives Matter movement. Among them, 36% showed strong support. Three in 10 said they oppose the movement and about one in 10, or 9%, were unsure.

According to the Oregon Values & Beliefs Center, support for the movement is higher among those with more education and income, with support being highest among Multnomah County residents.

Still, surveyors noted a lingering political divide among Oregonians on the perceptions of the social justice movement, with 87% of Democrats in support and 69% of Republicans opposed.

In 2020, the deaths of three different African Americans — two at the hands of police — catapulted the social justice movement into prominence. In February 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered by three white men in Georgia who mistook him for a burglar while he jogged in the woods. The following month, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, was shot and killed by police in Kentucky while sleeping in her home. In May 2020, the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who knelt on his neck catalyzed the public into action. The high-profile cases forced a spotlight on policing, racism and implicit bias in America, sparking nationwide protests and marches.

While Black Lives Matter marches and demonstrations took place in major cities, Portland saw sustained protests in 2020 that garnered international media attention and defined the city for much of that time. Downtown Portland saw sometimes violent clashes between protesters and local and federal police. Police drew scrutiny from the public and lawmakers for their repeated use of tear gas, pepper spray and munitions that left one man with a fractured skull.

Antifascist protesters drew strong criticism for demonstrations that ended in repeated damage to downtown businesses. Some Oregonians say that drowned out the overall message and overshadowed the need for police reform.

Robert Williams, who lives in Multnomah County, told OVBC that the ongoing protests may have hurt the message.

"Getting awareness of the issue is necessary. I believe the extended violence that accompanied actions was instigated by non-BLM agency," Williams said.

While a majority of those polled support Black Lives Matter, Oregonians are torn on the social impact of the justice movement.

OVBC polling shows 36% of Oregon residents think society is in a better place as a result of the social justice movement that followed George Floyd's death. Survey results show 38% think the country is worse off and 19% of those polled said we're in the same place as before Floyd's death and the ensuing calls for reform.

"I think that BLM educated so many white Americans, resulting in (two) major impacts," Susan Heath of the Willamette Valley said. "Some whites responded with compassion and concern (and may or may not still be involved in the movement), while others responded with fear and bigotry and joined the white nationalist backlash."

Marla Cox, of Marion County, said the uprising and protests in the name of the Black Lives Matter movement was harmful, leaving society more divided.

"Black Lives Matters burned cities, rioted, looted and no one did anything about it," Cox wrote in a survey response, saying the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol in 2021 "was nothing" compared to damage done in many American cities.

Cox later said by phone that the movement has sown racial division.

"It caused me to be aware of race all at once," Cox said. "It's damaged me. I don't like seeing color. I just want to see the person as the person. I want to go back to the way it was before. I'm Lakota and my uncle was Chickasaw. My mother was born on the reservation. My grandparents were born on the reservation. You look at what's inside people, that's what we should be looking at. Not the color of their skin."

Pollsters note a significant age gap in response to the question of societal impacts. Oregonians ages 75 and older are much more likely (48% versus 28%) than those ages 18 to 29 to think our culture is in a better place.

"Overall, Republicans tend to be more pessimistic on the issue, with 69% saying our culture is in a worse place, whereas 58% of Democrats think we're better off," OVBC noted in a summary of results, saying optimism on the issue tends to increase with higher income and education levels.

Split on solutions

Mixed opinions in the latest study are consistent with a June 2021 survey of Oregonians, which found 19% felt the Black Lives Matter movement has a positive impact on their community, compared with 22% who said it was negative.

The OVBC surveys, which reports a 2% margin of error and strives for representative sample size and accuracy, shows a lingering divide in the state regarding social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement in particular.

That divide has proven deadly.

On Feb. 19, five people were shot and one woman was killed just before a social justice march kicked off in Northeast Portland's Normandale Park. Brandy "June" Knightly, 60 was shot and killed by a man who lived nearby and emerged with a gun, yelling at demonstrators in the park before shooting Knightly in the head and seriously wounding at least four others.

The Normandale Park confrontation isn't the first time a demonstration in Portland has turned deadly.

Aaron "Jay" Danielson, 39, was shot and killed in August 2020, while part of a large caravan of vehicles and members of far-right group Patriot Prayer drove through the city rallying for then-President Donald Trump. The group was met with resistance from counter-protesters. The man suspected of shooting Danielson that night, Michael Forest Reinoehl, later told a freelance journalist that he shot Danielson in what he called "self defense," believing he was about to be stabbed. Reinoehl was later shot and killed by federal police in Washington who has a warrant for Reinoehl's arrest.

Oregonians are also split on solutions to reducing implicit bias and racism. When asked about potential strategies to reduce inequality between Black and white people in Oregon, a slim margin felt just two of the strategies: limiting the scope of policing and redrawing school boundaries, were effective.

Of those surveyed, 54% said limiting the scope of policing to focus on serious and violent crimes would have either a lot or some impact on reducing inequality. Similarly, 52% said redrawing school boundaries to create more racially and ethnically diverse schools would help.

Among the respondents, Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans (70% versus 35%) to think limiting the scope of policing would help. Democrats are also significantly more likely than Republicans (68% versus 35%) to think redrawing school boundaries to diversify campuses would help. College graduates are more likely to favor redrawing school boundaries than those with less formal education.


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