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Black youth experience high levels of police violence, activism

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Black millennials are intimately familiar with police harassment: more than half of them have been involved or have a friend who experienced harassment or violence during a police encounter.

That’s according to a study from the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture written by political scientists Jon C. Rogowski and Cathy J. Cohen.

The national survey, conducted in 2009 before the recent rise of activism surrounding police abuse, also found that only a third of white millennials reported the same, and about a quarter of Latino millennials. The study combined various surveys over a 10-year period.

Despite common experiences of problems with police, 66 percent of black millennials agreed that “police in your neighborhood are there to protect you,” compared to 80 percent of white millennials and 74 percent of Latino millennials.

Additionally, black millennials have the least faith in a fair legal system. Only 27 percent thought all groups were treated equally, compared with 41 percent of white millennials and 37 percent of Latino millennials.

What might be most interesting, however, is black youth participation in politics and activism.

“On the whole, though, these data show that Black youth not only voted at higher rates than white and Latino youth in 2012, but they also exhibited higher levels of political engagement across all but one of the behaviors we studied,” the report noted.

Nihilism and fatalism among black millennials are not popular.

Indeed, 71 percent of black millennials have confidence in their “ability to make a difference through political participation,” even though political alienation is high. Sixty-nine percent “believe elected officials care little about them,” the same percentage as white millennials. Seventy-four percent of Latino millennials believed the same.

Like higher voter turnout during 2008 and 2012, some of this was spurred by the Obama campaign. The high rates of political involvement outside of voting and campaign work, however, hint that activism is a trend, not a blip. Even though approval ratings for Obama among millennials of all races have declined, the symbolic achievement of the first African-American president might have given hope to young black activists that they could spur social change.

The Black Lives Matter movement has remained unaligned, criticizing Democratic and Republican politicians alike. Rather than folding into broader partisan activism, some black millennial activism orders itself around issues, not candidates.

“Just as there is no monolithic millennial generation, there also is no monolithic Black millennial generation,” the report notes (emphasis in original). Black millennials still support the Democratic Party by a large margin over the GOP, but the diversity among them means that their support isn’t to be taken for granted or assumed unchangeable.


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