I’m tired of being angry. I’m tired of being sad about it, tired of feeling depressed and anxious and fucked up. I feel like every time I walk out of my goddamn house, I could die today. I’m a six-foot-four Black man. I’m probably some of y’all’s worst nightmare.
– Gary Clark, Jr., Grammy Award-winning musician and songwriteri
In the wake of the recent killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, it is difficult to know what to say in response to the crisis unfolding in our country.
We also believe that silence is not an option and that Black lives matter.
No matter how you look at the data, Black Americans live in a much more precarious and hostile world than white Americans. Here are just a few of the inequities, challenges and even violence that they face daily:
And that was before COVID-19, which has hit the African American community particularly hard.
Even during a pandemic, racism is as pernicious as ever. COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting the Black community, but we can hardly take the time to sit with that horror as we are reminded, every single day, that there is no context in which Black lives matter.
– Roxane Gay, American writer, professor, editor, and social commentatorii
Given these facts, it is not surprising that surveys consistently find that Black Americans report a fundamental lack of faith in American institutions, based not only on recent events, but on a legacy of inaction in the face of persistent racial bias in policing, economic opportunity, employment, housing, educational equity, and more.
As part of our most recent Willow Poll, we asked respondents to share how confident they felt about various institutions that make up the U.S. justice system. As shown below, the lack of confidence in our justice system among Blacks is striking, especially compared to white Americans.
Blatant differences have long existed in the way police across the country have treated Black and white Americans. A particularly egregious example was New York City’s officially-discontinued but longstanding practice of stop-and-frisk. In 2011, the peak year of the program, 84% of the stops were with Blacks and Latinos, while only 9% were with whites. There was also a racial divide in the use of force during those stops (23% of Black and Latino stops; 16% of white), even though police found weapons on whites nearly twice as often.
While this is only one example, it is certainly not isolated, and the disparity of treatment has resulted in a huge gap between Black and white Americans in terms of trust in the police, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center study.
A 2019 YouGov study shows that Black Americans are more concerned about being victims of deadly police force than of a violent crime.
Consistent with a lack of trust in America’s justice system and policing, Pew Research Center’s “Race in America 2019” survey finds that most Black Americans believe that racism is both systemic and unaddressed in our society:
And, from the same study:
These are fundamentally different realities, a disparity that has undoubtedly been a heavy drag on the 400-year struggle toward racial justice in the U.S.
The Black community is used to the institutional racism inherent in education, the justice system and jobs. And even though we do all the conventional things to raise public and political awareness—write articulate and insightful pieces in the Atlantic, explain the continued devastation on CNN, support candidates who promise change—the needle hardly budges.
– Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, American basketball legend, activist, actor, and authoriii
We cannot continue to ignore the data.
If we want to effect real change, we have to acknowledge the truth, really listen, and then do something about it.