Racial Justice

Mass. residents view racism as serious problem in the state and express support for police reforms, poll finds

Participants in the survey expressed widespread support for prohibiting chokeholds and other police tactics and tools.

People demonstrate on Boston Common on June 3. Charles Krupa / AP

Many Massachusetts residents see systemic racism as the most pressing problem in the state, and a sizable majority support making reforms to policing, according to a new poll.

Almost 30 percent of respondents listed racism as the “most serious” problem residents face — topping concerns about the economy and the coronavirus pandemic — with 85 percent saying they “strongly” support or support the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the survey of 500 Massachusetts residents released Wednesday by Suffolk University, conducted for WGBH News, MassLive, The Boston Globe, and the State House News Service.

A large majority — 79 percent — responded to the Suffolk poll saying that the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is a sign of broader problems with how Black people are treated by police in the United States. Nearly 77 percent of Massachusetts residents expressed the belief that in general, police do not treat Black people as they treat others. And when participants were asked about the police in their city or town, 49.2 percent of respondents said they believed Black people were not treated the same as other residents in their municipality by local officers.  

The swelling local support for addressing racism and police brutality against Black Americans in Massachusetts mirrors increased agreement nationwide about the pervasiveness of racism in society and policing. In the weeks since Floyd’s death, Massachusetts has seen tens of thousands of people join protests and demonstrations calling for racial justice across the state.

According to the poll, in general, 50 percent of Massachusetts residents said police budgets should be reduced and money transferred to social services. When asked specifically about their local police department, the responses were closely split, with 44.8 percent saying budgets should be reduced and money transferred to social services, and 45.2 percent saying budgets should remain. 

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But 82 percent of residents said police officers should be licensed, similar to doctors or nurses, with those certifications revokable for violations of rules of conduct. A majority of respondents (82 percent) also expressed support for making police officer body camera footage public for all incidents where force was used, and 75 percent of participants said individuals should be allowed to sue police officers individually based on their actions while on duty.

A majority of Bay State residents also said they supported the prohibitions of some of the tools and tactics used by police, including chokeholds (88 percent), military-style vehicles (63 percent), tear gas (56 percent), and rubber bullets (52 percent).

Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled proposed police reforms for Massachusetts last week, putting forward a bill that aims to increase police accountability and create a framework for certifying law enforcement officers for the first time in Massachusetts’ history.

“The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police officers made clear that now is the time to get this done,” Baker said when he announced the new bill

 But the governor is facing mounting criticism from advocates for an element of the proposal that would provide up to $5,000 one-time bonuses to officers who go beyond the necessary minimum training for topics including advanced de-escalation techniques, narcotics training, and advanced training in bias-free policing. Critics of the bonuses say officers shouldn’t need incentives to complete trainings that help combat racism. 

“It’s disrespectful, it’s a slap in the face to every Black person in this city, to be paid for you to have cultural sensitivity, not be racist and to not kill us,” Monica Cannon-Grant, a local activist and founder of Violence in Boston, said during a Monday march on the State House, according to WGBH.

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