“An Awakening” That Is a Long Time Coming
On May 25, 2020, the nation was flooded by a wave of sadness, horror, and desire to take action. The death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man from Minneapolis, caused the country to shudder. “It is an awakening,” reflects Lakeisha, a 56-year-old African-American woman from North Dakota, looking back at the upheaval in light of Floyd’s death.
Elucd followed the movement as it unraveled, quietly, and consistently tracking what people think and feel as the events unfolded. Our data uncovered how the protests and demonstrations swept the country, and the world—both online and in real life, gaining traction by day.
With a movement so overarching and far-reaching, the American public still continues to comprehend and decipher the issues the protests and demonstrations brought to light. From police brutality to racial inequality, a lot of questions that had remained latent and overlooked for years came to the forefront with new force.
As Elucd took a deeper dive into the thoughts of people from around the country through individual conversations and interviews, one common thread emerged. Despite varied opinions on all the questions raised, the majority of the nation believes that the core mission of everything that has happened to date is to restore equality and end racial injustice—and it’s been a long time coming.
What’s the goal?
When asked what they thought the main goal of these protests and demonstrations was, some admitted that the protests have taken on their own course with off-shooting and varied objectives. “Honestly, since there's so many protests in so many different things,” Nia, an African-American college student from Florida, notes with confusion. “I do not know every single meaning and every single thing for each one of them.”
However, most agreed that despite some mottled and diverse goals, there was a thread tying this movement together—a demand for systemic change against racial inequality. “The main goal to me of the protest and the movement is to really bring awareness and not stop until permanent change is made. And that's not going to happen until all races get involved and say, ‘Yes, your life matters,’” Lakeisha says with determination and vigor.
This sentiment of resolve echoes across the public irrespective of age or race; with many other issues resurfacing in the process, the majority of the nation agrees that the main purpose—the overarching cause—of the uprising is to fight for racial equality and stop injustice. “I think there have been many goals, but I think the outright goal is to get black people on an equal playing field,” says Steven, a 31-year-old Asian-American creative copywriter from New York. “Personally, I'm obviously more for ending police brutality and getting rid of certain things that they do.”
This is the key reason why overall people supported the peaceful protests and saw it as a forum of expression for the longstanding frustration over racial issues. Most agreed that the tension between the African-American community and the police, as well as years of unjust treatment, led to this uproar.
Participation in the protests and support for those participating had its moments of rise and fall as the movement grew in size. Elucd’s data shows that the backing and encouragement for those participating in the protests began strong, but with time lost some steam. In the beginning of June, over 1 in 2 Americans (55%) supported the protesters—especially those 18-34 years of age (77%) and those of African-American descent (54%). As time progressed—by the end of June—the support steadily declined to overall 48%, and 63% of the nation overall became unfavorable towards protesters.
The reasons are complex and cannot be viewed from just one standpoint.
Instances of violence and media representation
Through media representation and coverage, another aspect of the demonstrations and protests came to light. Parallel to the peaceful protests that garnered national attention and support in their early stages, actions of violence, looting, and vandalism simultaneously attracted media and national attention.
In Nia’s eyes, these more violent acts of civil disruption diluted the otherwise righteous message that the movement was fighting to convey. “I noticed that on some media, they only viewed it as people wanting to destroy things, rather than the movement that was trying to occur,” she says with a note of disappointment in her voice. “That was being overshadowed by that.”
With wide media coverage of the non-peaceful, more violent events occurring simultaneously, Nia also noticed that such representation led to her peers misunderstanding the purpose of the demonstrations. Instead, following the example of the violence they witness in the media, young people in her community set on this path of violent, rather than peaceful, protests. “I know that at least the teenagers and young adults in my community, they take it a step further than it's supposed to,” she continues. “It makes me disappointed that my generation only saw the raids and the riots. That's just sad how they may think like that.”
As of June 21, Elucd’s data shows that 62% of the nation was supportive of the protests and believed they are important in making long muted voices heard and pushing for change. However, they were also opposed to the looting and vandalism incidents that quickly developed alongside the core movement. 79% expressed that looting and burning is wrong and counterproductive, and people who do this should be punished.
For some, the looting and thrashing caused more fear and horror, instead of inspiring hope for positive change as a result of the protests. Eden, a 53-year-old African-American New Yorker, was among those who were scared of the chaos caused by the violence and raiding that wreaked havoc on the streets. “In the beginning when there was a lot of looting and a lot of craziness going on, I had a feeling of hopelessness,” he says with a note of despair in his voice. “It was like the country was just spiraling out of control and it was quite scary.”
For many supporters of the demonstrations and their core mission, there was another major concern that kept them from directly participating in the protests: after all, the country was still amidst a global pandemic, and the risks of the virus’s further spread were high. In the beginning of June, when the protests were gaining traction, Elucd’s data showed that 73% of the national population expressed high to very high levels of concern about the spread of COVID-19 due to mass gatherings for protests.
Joshua, a Miami-based doctor with a Hispanic background, felt conflicted about participating in demonstrations. His dilemma was between the two roles he played in society as a healthcare professional and a human being. “I really had mixed feelings about it as a doctor on one hand,” he ponders. “But on the other hand, as a human being who really aligns with the messages that are being said by people who are protesting. So I sort of was on both sides of that.” At the end of the day, despite the serious healthcare risks that the mass gatherings posed, Joshua believes that the end goal of the movement justified the means to attain it: “I had mixed feelings when I saw people conglomerating. On the other hand, it is sort of a necessary sacrifice, maybe.”
The concerns about the pandemic weren’t prevalent among professionals in the field only; members of the African-American community who were directly involved and affected by the developing events also shared these major concerns about the virus’s spread—to an extent that some of them chose not to participate in the demonstrations due to their fears of contracting the virus.
In Nia’s eyes, maintaining distance and complying with protection guidelines would have been virtually impossible in areas people conglomerated en masse. “I know a couple of protesters that were meant to be socially distancing and following the CDC guidelines, but there's no real way to follow them,” she says quietly. “It's such a huge amount of people.”
Lakeisha shares a similar story about her concerns about COVID, especially because she lives in an area that is hard-hit by the pandemic. “Yes, that was a major concern because where I am is a hot pocket. So to me, with people not wearing masks, that was not going to be good for me.” Lakeisha also had to take into consideration the safety of her family when making a choice to participate in the protests or not. “My mother is elderly, I can't take that risk of contracting COVID and then if I visit her, no. So that wasn't an option.”
Good cop vs. Bad cop
Americans' confidence in the police is shaken after George Floyd’s death. Instead of instilling a sense of safety, the police now evoke feelings ranging from apathy to extreme distrust and even anxiety and fear. “Um, there is a feeling of anxiousness. I don't feel comfortable with them,” says Lakeisha, seemingly recollecting something for her past. She continues, “Yeah. I mean, when you are African-American—you know, of color—you see it all the time. You experience it. Say, the car you drive is too nice—so you stop me? You're going to run the plate for what? To find out that I own the car?”
This sense of discrimination is what drives the traction behind the idea of ‘Defunding the Police.’ Some people find themselves on the extreme end of support for this demand. “I think the police should be completely abolished,” Steven asserts with passion. “Personally, I think being a cop is not something that anyone should be aspiring to. And it seems ridiculous that they get so much power, and it attracts the wrong kind of people. And there's some of the military worship that's kind of transferring over to police. I'm not a fan, to put it lightly.”
These sentiments were also well reflected in the policy changes the public supported. As of July 2, 55% supported requiring collection and publication of data on use of force by police, 52% were for requiring collection and publication of data on community trust of police, and 54% reported being in favor of banning the use of chokeholds and strangleholds by police.
However, the public opinion on police is not always straightforward and presents a gradation of nuanced feelings and emotions. When it comes to defunding - there is an equally strong view that sees this as a complex—even misrepresented, to some extent—matter. The supporters of this view believe that the term “defunding” may be too extreme and misleading—that at the core, it’s more about finding a way to ensure there is some sort of protection maintained, while more funding is allocated towards re-education, retraining, and community service.
As of July 2, 29% support reducing funding for local police and redirecting them to support youth and social services. 61% on the other hand are somewhat or very unsupportive of this view.
Nia understands the complexity of the question—in her eyes, it’s not simply black and white. “That question I can never really answer because I do not know which would be the appropriate choice to make,” she says when asked about her views on police defunding. She has a lot of questions, and the answers circulating right now are not sufficient to relieve her doubts. If the police were to be replaced, who would provide the protection they can in more serious cases? And those officers who support their living with this job, where would they go?
“What do they do, are they going to be prosecuted for being a part of this job?” she questions with notes of concern in her voice. “It's just so many different consequences and routes of thinking that you have to actually put in place. I don't think there's ever going to be a truly right answer to this. It's complicated for sure.”
On the other end of the spectrum of the issue is the view that police is necessary for protection and cannot be fully eradicated. They frame the solution differently. “I think it's more important to reform than to defund because we still need police protection,” says Ed. As a member of the African-American community, he believes that, while there is a sharp need for reform and restructuring, the protection that police departments provide remains vital to people’s safety. “They have to be retrained. Sensitivity training has to be reinforced on a regular basis as society changes; they should be able to adjust to the changes and act accordingly,” he says. “They have a job to do to protect us.”
To hope or not to hope: impact and changes
There is no doubt that the protests and demonstrations have brought about more visibility and awareness to issues that have been left unnoticed for many years. To some, this open conversation about racial inequality and injustice is a big and necessary step towards positive change.
In Steven’s eyes, there are signs of a larger shift in public opinion, which to him indicates a beginning of a larger, more substantial change. “I think the fact that we made police injustice a national issue is huge,” he says. “That's never been talked about to this level.” With this elevated discourse as a big step forward, Steven thinks there is an opportunity to continue the discussion and touch upon a lot more issues that fall under the umbrella of racial inequality.
The movement has also proved educational and eye opening to those who might not have been directly affected by instances of racism or injustice before, but didn’t realize they were involved in them in the past. Joshua is among those who have begun noticing subtle signs of racism and bias in their everyday lives—even among highly professional and educated people.
“Because I'm in healthcare and I'm a doctor, I work with patients who it's clear are being profiled,” he says as he begins to share his new observations of the environment he works in with his fellow doctors. “It's clear how they're treated differently because of their race.”
According to Joshua, a larger majority of his hospital’s homeless patients suffering from HIV, AIDS, and substance abuse issues tend to be disproportionately African-American. And what Joshua noticed was that oftentimes, doctors are quick to put the blame on these patients for their own health issues, instead of taking a step back and trying to analyze the complexity of factors that determine the patients’ circumstances.
“I think they would say, ‘Look at this guy, of course he's never going to go to the doctor. That's why he's here in the hospital admitted sick.’ This is something that we jump to—and I myself had this happen to me, too.” He takes a pause to collect his thoughts and continues. “But it really takes an effort to understand that the reason that they're homeless is maybe because they didn't get an education, because they were unemployed, because they had a difficult upbringing, and because their upbringing caused mental illness. It's a net of factors that influence each other.”
With the protests resulting in increased awareness and reflection, a question arises: what about long-term, systemic change?
As in case with any movement—especially one with such a potent social media presence—there is a risk of it having a “seasonal” nature and becoming a transient trend, a spur-of-the-moment phenomenon that disrupts the everyday for a short period of time, only for history to repeat itself. With such worries in mind, some members of the African-American community remain cautious when it comes to hope for a larger change in the future.
Eden belongs to those who remain on the cautiously optimistic side and hope for a more sustained change down the line, when the effect of recency the movement carries now wears off. “I think so far it has been successful, but hopefully it's not like a trend where everyone's sort of a part of the movement for the moment and then, two months later, it's totally forgotten,” says Ed. “Hopefully it's able to be sustained and we see real change.”
Elucd’s national data has followed the evolution of the nation’s hope for positive change since the beginning of the movement. Despite the participation and support for protestors, the confidence that the events surrounding George Floyd’s death will lead to a positive change in the future has been on the lower and more skeptical side, with only 23% confident of any change as of June 29.
The future to many looks more hopeful than it did before the protests and demonstrations—with possible policy changes and a more widespread conversation on the issue—both online and offline, and a deeper level of bias acknowledgement.
However, it also leaves the American public with more questions—how do you tackle an issue so pervasive like racism? Is this movement really going to bring about long-term systemic changes? What will the future of police look like? Will we genuinely understand the concept of equality and achieve it?
Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, Elucd continues to understand what people think and feel.