Almost all Americans agree that the terrible situation that unfolded in Baltimore last week seems bound to repeat itself, according to a new national poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News.
The survey, released Sunday, found a "resounding" 96% of Americans expect the events that wracked Baltimore last week to repeat themselves at some time during the upcoming summer months. According to the Journal, the results indicate the vast majority of Americans "believe Baltimore's recent problems aren't a local phenomenon but instead are symptomatic of broader national problems."
What it means: Virtually everyone in the country is aware something is deeply wrong with the status quo and that what happened in Baltimore could reoccur with regularity unless the underlying problem is addressed. Unfortunately, the poll also found Americans continue to disagree on just what that something is.
About 60% of blacks said the crisis in Baltimore was the result of "long-standing frustrations about police mistreatment of African-Americans," while 27% said the disturbances were caused by people who used the death of Freddie Gray "as an excuse to engage in looting and violence."
When the Journal asked whites, the results were nearly perfectly inverted. 58% of whites blamed "hoodlums" for the Baltimore riots, while just 32% said the incidents were the result of decades of police-community tensions.
It's possible media coverage of the events in Baltimore has brought white and black Americans towards a closer understanding of the toxic environment that spawned the ugly events of the past week. Although over a quarter of African-Americans blamed the rioters rather than long-sown mistrust between police and the community, the results of the poll suggest that the majority of whites cling to an understanding of the riots more or less at odds with that held by the majority of blacks.
This probably goes a long way towards explaining why people believe a repeat of the riots is inevitable in other cities across the nation. If many black people blame police mistreatment of African-Americans, and whites blame the lawlessness in poor minority communities, it follows that these deeply-held but terribly conflicting viewpoints could contribute to a vicious cycle.
Why it's so troubling: Black communities that are disproportionately likely to have had negative experiences with the police will continue to react with understandable outrage at continued incidents of alleged police brutality, and many of the large majority of whites that trust their local police departments will likely continue to view the resulting anger as the product of sour grapes and disrespect for authority.
In the meantime no one has addressed any of the underlying factors that contribute to the plight of minority communities and the increasing militarization of U.S. police forces.
The fact that so many people believe more unrest is coming could also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since U.S. policing is so decentralized, the situation might even get worse if certain departments react to unrest by cracking down. Media portrayals that overemphasize the worst moments don't help, especially when they drown out the voices looking to keep things peaceful.
While there's obviously no brewing race war at work, this sad cycle seems likely to continue until there is some kind of imposed intervention. Unfortunately, what happened to Freddie Gray in Baltimore could happen all across the country. A problem this big requires an equally big solution that seems rather unlikely to come soon.