Attitudes toward systemic racism and unfair treatment of blacks and other minorities are beginning to shift amongst the United States, following a year of high-profile cases involving the deaths of black people during encounters with police nationwide.
According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, 59% of Americans think the country needs to be making more reforms on various levels to achieve racial equality. Nationwide, 53% of white people agreed the U.S. "needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites." In a previous poll, taken in March 2014, only 39% of white Americans expressed a need for such change.
The Portland Press-Herald reports that a separate survey, from the Washington Post and ABC News, asked the same question and got similar answers, with 60% of those surveyed calling for more reforms.
As Pew points out, public opinion on these issues remained closely divided throughout the last six years and until about a year ago, following the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old who was shot by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri. This recent polling marks the first time there's been a clear attitude shift among white Americans and the country as a whole.
The shift in racial attitudes has not been felt by white people alone. The majority of black and latino populations in the U.S. are increasingly supporting reforms in the name of racial equality. Eighty six percent of black people in America now think more must be done to solve inequality in America, a majority that has grown over the last several years.
Kevin Ahlbrand, president of Missouri's Fraternal Order of Police and a member of the Ferguson Commission, tells the Huffington Post that many of the reforms that have recently come into effect are largely thanks to the activism that erupted throughout the nation following the protests in Ferguson. "If not for the unrest, we wouldn't have seen municipal court reform," he said. "It's certainly a game-changer."
The Huffington Post reports that, due to the conversations and actions spurred by the Ferguson protests, at least 40 state measures aimed at improving police tactics and use of force have been created in the state of Louisiana alone.
What's more, the growing majority in attitudes toward police reform and inequality among whites can be partly attributed to Republicans, who have just recently started shifting their stance on the issues. Pew finds that, in the last year alone, the percentage of Republicans who say the U.S. needs to be making more changes has jumped a staggering 16 percentage points.
As a whole, over half the nation now feels racism in America is a "big problem." Five years ago, only one-third felt that way.